Alabama Chief Justice Suspended For Violating Marriage Equality Ruling

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore preaching against marriage equality after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/BUTCH DILL
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore preaching against marriage equality after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/BUTCH DILL

The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission has filed six charges against Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore for “flagrantly” disregarding federal court rulings on same-sex marriage. While the Alabama Court of the Judiciary considers those charges — which could likely lead to his removal from office (again) — he is suspended with pay.

The Commission, which operates somewhat like a grand jury in its investigations, issued its charges Friday night in a decision detailing the chaotic feud that persisted over the past year between the federal courts and the Alabama state courts over marriage equality. Moore was the lead cause of that chaos because of his insistent objection to same-sex marriage and the way he abused his position to buck the federal courts’ rulings.

For example, after a federal district court ordered Alabama probate judges to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in January, 2015 Moore issued his own order telling the probate judges to ignore the federal courts. These conflicting orders led to confusion throughout the state as the feud played out.

Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. That, however, did not deter Moore. This past January — six months after Obergefell — he issued another order directing Alabama’s probate judges not to issue any marriages licenses to same-sex couples. His reasoning was that it was unclear if Obergefell applied to all 50 states or just the four states in the specific cases the Supreme Court heard. This was despite the fact it clearly stated that “same-sex couples may now exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States.”

It was this order that served as the foundation for the Commission’s charges against Moore. He “flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority” by violating the orders of the U.S. Supreme Court, the charges read, and by ordering others to do the same. His order was “contrary to clear and determined law about which there is no confusion or unsettled question.” He also “abandoned his role as a neutral and detached chief administrator of the judicial system.”

Two months later, the Alabama Supreme Court finally surrendered and admitted — in a rather petulant fashion — that marriage equality is the law of the land. Unfortunately, it was too little too late for Moore, because it could not undo his January order.

This is not, however, the first time that Moore has been removed from office. In 2003, the Court of the Judiciary removed Moore from his same position as Chief Justice for similarly violating a federal court order. In that case, Moore had placed a 2.6-ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the state building. A federal judge ruled that it was a violation of the separation of church and state and ordered Moore to have it removed, but he refused and was removed from the Court. He was reelected in 2012, and his current term would last through 2018, though these charges might cut that term short.

Just last week, Moore responded to the complaints against him. He accused the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the group that originally filed the ethics complaint, as well as “atheists, homosexuals, and transgender individuals,” of political motivations.

Friday night, he disregarded the charges, claiming, “The Judicial Inquiry Commission has no authority over the administrative orders of the chief justice of Alabama or the legal injunctions of the Alabama Supreme Court prohibiting probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.”

But the SPLC’s Richard Cohen celebrated the charges. “Moore has disgraced his office for far too long,” he 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. For the good of the state, he should be kicked out of office.”

Unless Moore reaches some kind of settlement, he will be tried before the Court of the Judiciary. He is suspended with pay until then.