Alabama Judge Suspended Over His Opposition to Gay Marriage
By Brian Lyman
The Judicial Inquiry Commission Friday charged Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore with violating ethical rules, over his attempt earlier this year to stop probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
The six charges led to Moore's immediate suspension in the role. The Alabama Court of the Judiciary, which removed Moore in 2003 and will consider the charges, could order the chief justice removed a second time, though other sanctions could come down.
The Judicial Inquiry Commission accuses Moore of failing to act with impartiality and refusing to follow "clear law" in issuing his Jan. 6 order, which came six months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. Moore is also charged with acting while a lawsuit over the constitutionality of same-sex marriage was pending before the court.
The Court of the Judiciary removed Moore from office in 2003 after he refused to obey a federal court order requiring the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the Heflin-Tolbert Judicial Building, where the Alabama Supreme Court sits. Moore was re-elected in 2012.
In a statement Friday, Moore said the JIC "had no authority" over administrative orders related to probate judges.
"The JIC has chosen to listen to people like Ambrosia Starling, a professed transvestite, and other gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals, as well as organizations which support their agenda," the statement said. "We intend to fight this agenda vigorously and expect to prevail."
Moore called the complaints "politically motivated" at an April 27 presser conference. His attorney, Matt Staver, said the orders reflected "a disagreement between state and federal courts on an issue."
In his January 6 order, Moore argued that the Obergefell ruling only applied to the plaintiffs in the case, and that probate judges could not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by the Alabama Policy Institute and the Alabama Citizens Action Program. The groups, which oppose same-sex marriage, challenged a January 2015 order by U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade which struck down the state's bans on same-sex marriage.
For the most part, Alabama probate judges ignored Moore's order. In its charges, the JIC noted that Moore was "bound by the United State Supreme Court's interpretation and application" of the U.S. Constitution. The JIC noted that the Obergefell decision specifically struck down state bans on same-sex marriage throughout the nation.
"Clearly, probate judges could no longer exercise a ministerial duty to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based solely on their same-sex character," the complaint states.
The charges state that Moore "knowingly ordered" the state's probate judges "to commit violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics and "abandoned his role as a neutral and detached chief administrator of the judicial system."
Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the complaint, said the Court of the Judiciary should remove Moore "for the good of the state."
"Moore has disgraced his office for far too long," the statement said. "He's such a religious zealot, such an egomaniac that he thinks he doesn't have to follow federal court rulings he disagrees with."
The chief justice, an outspoken social conservative, has made no secret of his feelings on same-sex marriage. In March, Moore said proposed American Bar Association rule change intended to expand protections for LGBT individuals was "subordinating an attorney's ethical duties to the sexual orthodoxy du jour."
That same month, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed outstanding petitions in the API case. Moore, who recused himself from the case, rejoined it to write an opinion attacking the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell for trying to "invoke the grief, sorrow and compassion associated with a Greek tragedy."
"Riding a tidal wave of emotion, the ensuing tears and pathos then suffice to fertilize a new constitutional right nowhere mentioned in the Constitution itself," Moore wrote.
Most of Moore's fellow justices issued opinions in the case that attacked Obergefell. Associate Justice Greg Shaw called Moore's interpretation of the relationship between federal and state law "silly."
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed its first complaint against Moore in January 2015 after Moore wrote a letter to Gov. Robert Bentley saying Granade's initial ruling "raised serious, legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction" over same-sex marriage laws. The SPLC continued adding to its complaints as Moore signaled his unwillingness to obey Granade or the U.S. Supreme Court.
Alabama's Chief Justices serve six-year terms, but no person to hold the title has served a full term in 21 years. Chief Justice Drayton Nabers, appointed by Gov. Bob Riley to replace Moore, was defeated for re-election in 2006 by Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sue Bell Cobb. Cobb resigned in 2011 to spend more time with her family. Chuck Malone, appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley after serving as Bentley's chief of staff, was defeated by Moore in the 2012 Republican primary.
Former Chief Justice Perry Hooper was narrowly elected in 1994, but waited ten months to be sworn in while bruising fights over the election results went through the courts.
(c)2016 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)