Metro Weekly

Alabama Chief Justice suspended from bench over gay marriage order

Decision marks second time Roy Moore has faced disciplinary action for his antics on the bench

Roy Moore - Credit: Alabama Supreme Court
Roy Moore – Credit: Alabama Supreme Court

Alabama’s Court of the Judiciary voted unanimously to suspend the state’s Chief Justice Roy Moore from the bench for the remainder of his term. Effective immediately, Moore will be suspended without pay until his term ends in 2019, reports The Huntsville Times.

The vote to suspend Moore comes after a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday where he stood trial on six charges of violating judicial ethics for an order encouraging probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In that order, Moore informed probate judges that, even though the Supreme Court had struck down all laws prohibiting same-sex couples from being married, an earlier ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court prohibiting same-sex marriage licenses remained in effect.

This marks the second time Moore has been disciplined while serving on Alabama’s highest court. In 2003, he was forcibly removed from the bench for violating an order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a state courthouse.

But unlike in 2012, when he experienced a political rebirth by getting re-elected to his old position, the 69-year-old Moore will be unable to serve as Chief Justice again, as Alabama law prevents anyone from being elected or appointed to a judgeship past the age of 70.

The court found Moore guilty on six charges of ethical violations related to the order on same-sex marriage: for failing to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary; for failing to avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety in his activities; for failing to comply with the law and conduct himself in a manner that would promote public confidence in the “integrity and impartiality” of the judiciary; for failing to avoid conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; for failing to be impartial when carrying out his duties; and failing to abstain from public comment about a matter pending before his own court.

During Wednesday’s disciplinary hearing, Moore and his lawyers from the conservative legal firm Liberty Counsel argued that the Chief Justice was simply informing probate judges of the status of a previous Supreme Court order, not attempting to bully probate judges into not issuing marriage licenses, as the Judicial Inquiry Commission has claimed.

Moore’s lawyer, Mat Staver, plans to appeal the decision. Staver also argued that by suspending Moore for the remainder of his term, the court is essentially removing him from the bench, which it cannot do if all nine members do not vote for removal.

“This decision clearly reflects the corrupt nature of our political and legal system at the highest level,” Moore said in a statement. “This was a politically motivated effort by radical homosexual and transgender groups to remove me as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court because of outspoken opposition to their immoral agenda. This opinion violates not only the legal standards of evidence but also the rule of law that states that no judge can be removed from office except by unanimous vote.”

In its order, the Court of the Judiciary sought to clarify that the case was not about the merits of the legality of same-sex marriage or the Obergefell decision issued by the Supreme Court in June 2015, but rather about Moore’s alleged violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics. The court also said it did not believe Moore’s defense that his order was merely to provide “guidance” to probate judges on the status of the Alabama Supreme Court order. Rather, it said, the reality was that Moore was “in fact ‘ordering and directing’ the probate judges” to comply with the Alabama Supreme Court order and to ignore the Obergefell decision.

The LGBT legal organization Lambda Legal issued a statement praising Moore’s suspension for “flouting the rulings of our federal courts” and for violating judicial ethics.

“Chief Justice Moore is Exhibit A for why we shouldn’t elect judges in the first place,” said Eric Lesh, the director of Lambda Legal’s Fair Courts Project. “Moore was re-elected after being removed from the bench, repeatedly and loudly vilifying LGBT people on the campaign trail. He ran for his seat on an anti-marriage equality platform, predicting that a ruling would ’cause the destruction of our country’ and would generate a ‘great backlash.’ Moore has even managed to work his anti-LGBT demagoguery into a legal decision by citing scripture in a 2002 judicial opinion in a child custody case that shockingly referred to lesbian parents as ‘immoral,’ ‘detestable,’ ‘an inherent evil,’ and ‘inherently destructive to the natural order of society.’

“Roy Moore’s defiance of federal law, his overtly political actions and his disparaging statements about LGBT people contravene his ethical obligations,” Lesh continued. “We are pleased by the Judicial Inquiry Commission’s decision. The people of Alabama deserve better from the head of their state judiciary.”

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