Ala. justice off bench for defying feds on gay marriage

Kim Chandler
Associated Press

Montgomery, Ala. — Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was removed from the bench Friday for defying the U.S. Supreme Court on gay marriage, more than a decade after he got in trouble for refusing federal orders to move a Ten Commandments monument.

By suspending Moore for the rest of his term, the nine-member Alabama Court of the Judiciary has effectively removed him from office for the second time.

The outspoken Christian conservative was ousted from office in 2013 for his stand in defense of the 2 ½ ton monument he had installed in the state judicial building, but voters later re-elected him.

The judiciary court ruled that Moore defied law already clearly settled by the high court’s Obergefell vs. Hodges ruling when he told Alabama’s probate judges six months later that they were still bound by a 2015 state court order to deny marriage licenses to gays and lesbians.

“Beyond question, at the time he issued the January 6, 2016 order, Chief Justice Roy Moore knew about Obergefell and its clear holding that the United States Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to marry,” the court wrote in the unanimous decision.

They said Moore also flouted a federal judge’s order that enjoined the judges from enforcing Alabama’s same sex marriage ban after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.

The 50-page decision indicated that a majority of justices wanted to completely remove Moore — not just suspend him without pay — but they didn’t have the unanimous agreement. The effect, though, is the same. Moore is off the bench.

Moore’s punishment comes as all three branches of Alabama’s government face upheaval. The Republican speaker of the state House of Representatives was removed from office this summer for criminal ethics violations. A legislative committee is weighing whether Gov. Robert Bentley should be impeached over a scandal involving a top aide.

The president of the civil rights organization that filed the ethics complaint against Moore praised the decision as a victory for the state.

“Moore was elected to be a judge, not a preacher. It’s something that he never seemed to understand. The people of Alabama who cherish the rule of law are not going to miss the Ayatollah of Alabama,” said Richard Cohen, of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

A lawyer for Moore called the decision a “miscarriage of justice” and announced an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.

“The rule of law should trump political agendas. Sadly, today that is not the case. What this decision tells us today is that Montgomery has a long way to go to weed out abuse of political power and restore the rule of law,” said attorney Mat Staver, who also represented Kentucky clerk Kim Davis in her refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

Moore, 69, had already been suspended from the bench since May, when the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission accused him of violating judicial ethics. By the end of his term in 2019, he’ll be beyond the age limit of 70 for judges, unless voters raise the limit in November.

Testifying under oath Wednesday, Moore said he was simply noting a fact — that the Alabama Supreme Court’s order affirming the state’s marriage ban had not been lifted.

“I gave them a status in the case, a status of the facts that these orders exist. That is all I did,” Moore testified.

But lawyers for the Judicial Inquiry Commission told the court that Moore — who once referred to judicial rulings allowing gay marriage as “tyranny” — had been on a mission to block gay marriage from coming to Alabama.

“We are here 13 years later because the Chief Justice learned nothing from his first removal. He continues to defy the law,” argued John Carroll, a lawyer representing the commission.