"I'm voting for Bob Vance in a big way," Houston said in an interview.
Houston said Vance is a well-respected circuit judge who has drawn praise from plaintiff and defense lawyers. For Houston, a Republican, backing Vance means crossing party lines.
The 79-year-old retired justice said Moore's actions when they served together are preventing him from supporting Moore's bid to regain the office he got kicked out of in 2003. Houston said those actions include Moore disobeying a court order even though the state's Cannons of Judicial Ethics say "a judge should respect and comply with the law."
Moore said he's surprised Houston would support Vance since he contributed to President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. "If Gorman is led to support the Democrat platform of taxpayer-funded abortions, same-sex marriage, and the exclusion of God, then he is certainly free to do so, but I will continue to acknowledge God and stand for morality under the law," Moore said in a statement Friday night.
He also released a handwritten letter Houston sent him on Dec. 18, 2002, to say thanks for a Christmas gift of fruitcake. The letter was written before Moore lost his job for defying a federal court order to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the state judicial building.
Houston wrote: "I enjoy serving with you on the Court. I have served on 12 different courts, and I enjoyed all of them. However, some were more enjoyable than others, and the present Court is the most enjoyable of all. You are a man of great faith and great principle, and I respect that very much."
Houston also noted in the letter that earlier in his career, he considered disobeying a court order, but didn't after reading Scripture in Romans about submitting to governing authorities.
"I do hope that you will not have to defy a court order, because that could put the Court in great chaos," Houston wrote.
At the time of Houston's letter, a federal judge had set a Jan. 3, 2003 deadline for Moore to comply with an order to move the monument.
Vance said Friday he was honored by Houston's support. "Justice Houston does a service by reminding us what we went through 10 years ago," he said.
Houston became the court's senior member when Moore took office in 2001. He said previous chief justices he served with were consensus builders, but Moore was not. He said Moore's handling of budget issues strained relationships with circuit judges, legislators and other elected officials. He said he worries that could happen again if Moore is elected to a second term Nov. 6.
Houston's views about Moore are not something developed for the chief justice campaign. Much of what he said in the AP interview is also discussed in his personal papers that he filed with the state law library and state archives more than seven years ago.
Houston served on the Supreme Court from 1985 until his retirement in 2005. In the Republican primary for chief justice in 2000, Houston voted for fellow Justice Harold See, who finished second to Moore. Houston said he later went to visit Moore at the courthouse in Gadsden, where Moore developed a reputation as Alabama's "Ten Commandments judge" for displaying a handmade plaque of the commandments in his courtroom.
After a three-hour visit, Houston decided to support Moore over Democratic challenger Sharon Yates in the general election. He also gave Moore a $1,000 campaign donation, which is reflected in Moore's campaign finance reports.
After Moore won, Houston said friends of Moore's told him that the new chief justice needed help with moving expenses. Houston said he made a personal donation. He can't remember the exact amount, but believes it was $200.
Their relationship began to sour when Moore moved a granite monument of the Ten Commandments into the rotunda of the state judicial building late at night on July 31, 2001. Houston saw the 2.5-ton monument when he arrived for work in the morning.
"None of the eight associate justices knew anything about the monument until it was in place in the rotunda," he said.
He said Moore told him that he didn't tell the other justices because he was the lessee of the building in state records and he didn't want to get the other justices involved in any litigation that might arise. Houston said Moore also assured him in person that day and in a letter later that he did not anticipate the monument costing the state any money.
Lawsuits did follow. The people who sued won a federal court order requiring Moore to move the monument from public view. Moore refused. A state judicial court suspended him in August 2003 and then unanimously kicked him out of office three months later for not abiding by the court order.
Houston said he tried to keep the case from getting that far. He offered to let Moore turn over his duties to him temporarily and let him remove the monument to comply with the court order. But Moore declined and wrote: "The members of the court have not taken the time or consideration to understand my position in this matter. They render their opinion without an understanding of the United States Constitution or their obligations thereunder."
After the state Court of the Judiciary suspended Moore, Houston became acting chief justice and had the monument moved. He said he acted because the federal judge was threatening to fine the state $5,000 a day for each day the monument remained, with the fine doubling each week. Even though the state missed the judge's deadline for moving the monument, the federal judge didn't levy a fine.
Houston said Moore always insisted he was acknowledging God, but he couldn't find any judge to overturn the court order to remove the monument or to put him back in office. "Not a single other judge has agreed with Judge Moore," Houston said.