Judge Terry Moorer – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama

Judge Terry Moorer, a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Middle District of Alabama, is a man of many firsts.  He is President Trump’s first African American nominee to the federal bench.[1]  He is also the first African American nominee to the Alabama federal bench named by a Republican President, and the first Republican-appointed African American nominee since Judge C. Darnell Jones in 2008.  He would also be the first African American judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.  The historic nature of his nomination aside, Moorer may draw questions about his conduct in a politically charged case involving Alabama gambling.

Background

Terry Fitzgerald Moorer was born in Greenville, AL in 1961.  After getting an associate’s degree from Marion Military Institute in 1979, Moorer received a B.A. from Huntingdon College in 1983.   Moorer immediately proceeded to the University of Alabama Farrow School of Law, graduating in 1986.  While a law student, Moorer clerked for Justice Samuel A. Beatty on the Alabama Supreme Court.

After getting his J.D., Moorer joined the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Rucker.  After four years there, Moorer joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Alabama as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.  In 2001, Moorer became the lead of the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).

From 1990 to 2005, Moorer also served  as a Judge Advocate in the Alabama National Guard.  From 2005 to 2014, Moorer served as a Military Judge.

In 2007, Moorer was selected to be U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.  He continues to serve in that position.

In 2013, Moorer applied for vacancies on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama and the Middle District of Alabama.  He interviewed with Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL) and the Alabama Democratic Party, but was not selected for the vacancies.  In 2015, Moorer interviewed again with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).  Again, Moorer was nominated by the Obama Administration for any of the vacancies.

History of the Seat

The seat Moorer has been nominated for opened on June 8, 2017, with Judge William Steele’s move to senior status.  While Moorer’s nomination for an unspecified seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama had been announced on May 8, the White House ended up nominated two other lawyers: Emily Coody Marks, and Brett Talley, to that court.  Moorer was instead nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama on September 7, 2017.

Political Activity

In the 1980s, Moorer served as a paid campaign aide in two campaigns.  From April 1982 to September 1982, Moorer recruited and coordinated volunteers for the gubernatorial campaign of Alabama House Speaker Joe McCorquodale.  McCorquodale ultimately lost the Democratic primary to former Governor George Wallace, who won the general election.

From April 1986 to July 1986, Moorer also served as a paid campaign aide for the campaign of Don Siegelman to be Alabama Attorney General.  Siegelman, a Democrat, was ultimately elected and went on to become Governor in 1998.

Legal Experience

Moorer’s first job out of law school was working as a Judge Advocate for the U.S. Army.  In this role, Moorer represented the command in disciplinary proceedings, including court martials.  Moorer also provided legal assistance to members of the armed forces, and represented army hospitals in medical malpractice cases.  Other than this position, most of Moorer’s career as an attorney has been as a federal prosecutor.

Moorer worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Alabama from 1990 to late 2006.  As a federal prosecutor, Moorer worked on cases involving narcotics, organized crime, firearms, fraud, immigration, gang activity, and child pornography.  Notably, early in his tenure, Moorer was the lead counsel in prosecuting PHE, one of the largest pornography distributors in the United States, for sending unsolicited material to juveniles.[2]

During his last six years as a federal prosecutor, Moorer was supervised by U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, the wife of prominent Alabama Republican Bill Canary.  As U.S. Attorney, Canary led the prosecution of then-Democratic Governor (and Moorer’s old boss) Don Siegelman on federal bribery and mail fraud charges.[3]  While the charges, which were extremely controversial and criticized for political motivation, overlapped with Moorer’s tenure at the office, there is no evidence of Moorer’s involvement in the case.

Jurisprudence

Moorer has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama since 2007.  In this role, Moorer presides over pretrial, trial, grand jury and discovery matters.  He also hears civil trials in cases where both parties consent to his presence on the case.  In his ten years on the bench, Moorer has heard approximately 11 cases that have gotten a verdict or judgment.

Notably, Moorer presided over the deeply controversial trial of eleven defendants charged with illegally attempting to legalize gambling in Alabama.[4]  The charges drew criticism for being politically motivated, intended to hurt Democrats, and legally spurious.[5]  Moorer himself drew criticism for his refusal to call Republican Governor Bob Riley to testify in the trial, with one commentator, attorney Roger Shuler, arguing that Moorer had bent to the will of the Alabama Republican Party.[6]  Ultimately, the defendants were acquitted of all charges.[7]

As a U.S. Magistrate Judge, Moorer is called on to rule on pretrial motions in criminal cases, including motions to suppress evidence under the Fourth Amendment.  In the overwhelming majority of such motions he has reviewed, Moorer has recommended that the evidence not be suppressed.[8]  In one case, Moorer recommended that a suppression motion be denied in a case where an individual, pulled over for traffic offenses, was further detained and questioned after investigation of the traffic investigation had ended.[9]  Specifically, Moorer held that even if a constitutional violation had occurred, the “effect of suppression here would be marginal at best” in deterring future violations.[10]  Judge W. Harold Albritton declined to adopt that portion of Moorer’s reasoning, arguing that Moorer should have refrained from that “unnecessary” finding after having denied the motion to suppress.[11]

In the ten years that Moorer has served on the bench, nine of his decisions have been partially and completely reversed by a higher court.  Most notably, in one case, Moorer held that government officials were protected by qualified immunity against suit by an inmate alleging inadequate dental care.[12]  After the district court adopted Moorer’s report and recommendation, the Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that material facts at issue in the case should have led to a denial of summary judgment.[13]

Overall Assessment

Given his long tenure as both a federal prosecutor and a U.S. Magistrate Judge, Moorer is well-prepared for the federal district court.  While Moorer’s record is fairly conservative, critics are likely to attack two aspects in particular: first, they may reiterate the allegations of bias raised against Moorer during the McGregor trial; second, they may attempt to question Moorer’s involvement, if any, in the Siegelman prosecution.

In response to these lines of inquiry, Moorer’s defenders can note that he had no involvement in the Siegelman case, and further, the acquittals in McGregor show Moorer’s ultimate fairness to the defendants.

Overall, the odds lean in favor of Moorer’s confirmation, which would give the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama its first African American federal judge.


[1] Kent Faulk, Trump Nominates Black Alabama Judge to Federal Bench, AL.com, Sept. 7, 2017, http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2017/09/african_american_nominated_by.html.

[2] United States v. PHE, 2:93-cr-329-ID (M.D. Ala. 1993).

[3] Scott Pelley, Did Ex-Alabama Governor Get a Raw Deal?, 60 Minutes, Feb. 21, 2008, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/did-ex-alabama-governor-get-a-raw-deal/.  

[4] United States v. McGregor, Crim. Act. No. 2:10-cr-0186-MHT (M.D. Ala. 2011).  

[5] See Roger Shuler, Leura Canary’s “October Suprise” Becomes Reality, Legal Schnauzer, Oct. 4, 2010, https://legalschnauzer.blogspot.com/2010/10/leura-canarys-october-surprise-becomes.html.  See also BMAZ, Leura Canary Strikes Again: Alabama Bingo Arrests, Shadowproof, Oct. 4, 2010, https://shadowproof.com/2010/10/04/leura-canary-strikes-again-alabama-bingo-arrests/.  

[6] Roger Shuler, Is That Racism Hanging in the Air at the Federal Bingo Trial in Alabama, Legal Schnauzer, June 16, 2011, https://legalschnauzer.blogspot.com/2011/06/is-that-racism-hanging-in-air-at.html.  See also Bob Martin, Was Federal Court’s Table Set, The Tuskegee News, Nov. 18, 2010, http://www.thetuskegeenews.com/opinion/was-federal-court-s-table-set/article_7ecd8108-9586-5a36-ba85-667b0b0f93a8.html.  

[7] Kim Chandler, Milton McGregor, Five Others Acquitted in Alabama Gambling Trial, AL.com, March 8, 2012, http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2012/03/milton_mcgregor_5_others_acqui.html.  

[8] See, e.g., United States v. Cruz, 2017 WL 1745066 (M.D. Ala. April 17, 2017); United States v. Hughes, 2016 WL 6305963 (M.D. Ala. Oct. 27, 2016); United States v. Terry, 2015 WL 5852947 (M.D. Ala. Oct. 7, 2015); United States v. King, 2015 WL 4620530 (M.D. Ala. June 30, 2015); United States v. Nevels, 2014 WL 272309 (M.D. Ala. Jan. 23, 2014); United States v. McCall, 2014 WL 65738 (M.D. Ala. Jan. 8, 2014); United States v. Tears, 2012 WL 6568545 (M.D. Ala. Dec. 17, 2012); United States v. Vaught, 2012 WL 3670652 (M.D. Ala. July 26, 2012); United States v. Lovvorn, 2012 WL 3743975 (M.D. Ala. April 24, 2012); United States v. Thomas, 2010 WL 5579877 (M.D. Ala. Dec. 29, 2010); United States v. Guice, 2010 WL 5575287 (M.D. Ala. Nov. 30, 2010); United States v. Bruce, 2010 WL 3730149 (M.D. Ala. Aug. 31, 2010); United States v. Turner, 2010 WL 3880043 (M.D. Ala. Aug. 4, 2010); United States v. Thoussaint, 2010 WL 447107 (M.D. Ala. Feb. 4, 2010); United States v. Nelb, 2009 WL 4666868 (M.D. Ala. Dec. 2, 2009); United States v. DeJesus, 2009 WL 3488690 (M.D. Ala. Oct. 22, 2009); United States v. Rendon, 2009 WL 3052277 (M.D. Ala. Sept. 21, 2009); United States v. Brooks, 2009 WL 2960378 (M.D. Ala. Sept. 10, 2009); United States v. Hall, 2009 WL 2132702 (M.D. Ala. July 14, 2009).  But see United States v. Smith, 694 F. Supp. 2d 1242 (M.D. Ala. 2009) (adopting report and recommendation by Moorer granting motion to suppress in part); United States v. Mock, 2012 WL 7988590 (M.D. Ala. Nov. 29, 2012) (granting motion to suppress in part).

[9] United States v. Williams, 2010 WL 5579879 (M.D. Ala. Dec. 6, 2010).

[10] Id. at *3.

[11] See United States v. Williams, 2011 WL 124508 (M.D. Ala. Jan. 14, 2011).

[12] Iacullo v. United States, 2:10-cv-589-TMH, 2014 WL 2861427 (M.D. Ala. June 24, 2014).

[13] See Iacullo v. United States, 657 F. App’x 916 (11th Cir. 2016).

[14] As a law student at Georgetown, Kelly spent a year as a Work-Study Reference Clerk at the Edward Bennett Williams Law Library.

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