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Alabama justice ousted over Ten Commandments monument wins back post

By Kaija Wilkinson

MOBILE, Alabama (Reuters) - A former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who was removed from office nine years ago for refusing to take down a Ten Commandments monument has won back his job.

Republican Roy Moore defeated Democrat Bob Vance, a circuit judge, in Tuesday's election for the Supreme Court seat. Moore won 52 percent of the vote with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to local media.

Alabama voters also rejected a ballot measure to strip racist language from the state constitution.

Moore was ousted from office in 2003 for refusing to take down a two-ton monument of the Ten Commandments from the rotunda in the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery. He was first elected to the chief justice job in 2000.

In a legal fight that drew national attention, a federal judge ruled Moore was placing himself above the law and violating the U.S. Constitution by refusing to remove the religious monument, and the Alabama Court of the Judiciary unanimously removed him from office.

Moore began his comeback in March, when he pulled off a surprise victory over both the current chief justice and a former state attorney general who had been favored to win the Republican primary.

Moore has said he will not do anything to create further friction with the federal courts - including bringing back the disputed monument.

"God is great," Moore told Reuters on Tuesday night. "He has directed us throughout this campaign and it shows. Compared to the millions spent against us, it's a really big victory."

Vance, the son of a federal judge who was killed by a mail bomb at his Birmingham home in 1989, raised more than two times as much as Moore and was endorsed by a bipartisan group of 10 former state justices.

Moore's victory was part of a Republican sweep of statewide offices in Alabama on Tuesday. It was the first time since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era in the late 19th century that Democrats were shut out of office on the state level.

"Life is good," said Republican Senate Majority Leader J.T. "Jabo" Waggoner. "It took us 136 years to get control back."

Alabama voters also defeated an amendment that would have deleted references in the state's 111-year-old constitution to separate schools for white and black children and a poll tax, wording already invalidated by federal law.

Supporters of the measure said the changes were needed to help Alabama move beyond its history of racial segregation.

But some black legislators and the Alabama Education Association teachers union opposed the amendment, arguing that removing the controversial language while also leaving in wording that did not guarantee a free public education to school children could do more damage.

(Additional reporting by Verna Gates in Birmingham, Alabama; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Eric Beech)

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