Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has been suspended from the bench for telling probate judges to defy federal orders regarding gay marriage.
It’s the second time Moore has been removed from the chief justice job for defiance of federal courts – the first time in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building.
The Alabama Court of the Judiciary (COJ) issued the order Friday suspending Moore from the bench for the remainder of his term after an unanimous vote of the nine-member court.
“For these violations, Chief Justice Moore is hereby suspended from office without pay for the remainder of his term. This suspension is effective immediately,” the order stated.
The court found him guilty of all six charges of violation of the canons of judicial ethics. Moore’s term is to end in 2019, but because of his age, 69, he cannot run for the office again.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley will not have an appointment, said Yasamie R. August, press secretary for the governor. Justice Lyn Stuart will continue in the role of Acting Chief Justice and that court will continue with eight justices, she said.
The reason there won’t be a replacement is because Moore was suspended, not removed from office, she said.
Moore is filing an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court, his attorney said.
Moore issued this statement:
“This decision clearly reflects the corrupt nature of our political and legal system at the highest level.
After the Attorney General of Alabama declined to prosecute this case, the JIC employed the former legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) which filed the charges against me, at a cost of up to $75,000.00 to the taxpayers of Alabama.
During the trial which lasted approximately four hours, the JIC produced no witnesses, no affidavits, and no evidence to meet their burden of proving by “clear and convincing” evidence that the Administrative order of January 6, 2016 violated the Canons of Judicial Ethics.
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 which states that no judge can be removed from office except by unanimous vote.”
In its order, the COJ wanted to make sure people understood what Moore’s case was and was not about.
“At the outset, this court emphasizes that this case is concerned only with alleged violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics,” the COJ states. “This case is not about whether same-sex marriage should be permitted: indeed, we recognize that a majority of voters in Alabama adopted a constitutional amendment in 2006 banning same-sex marriage, as did a majority of states over the last 15 years.”
The COJ also stated it is also not a case to review or to editorialize about the United States Supreme Court’s 5-4 split decision in June 2015 to declare same-sex marriage legal nationwide in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges.
Moore was tried Wednesday before the COJ on the charges that centered on a Jan. 6 administrative order to the state’s 68 probate judges.
The canons of judicial ethics Moore was found guilty of violating are:
- Canon 1, in that he failed to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
- Canon 2, in that he failed to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities.
- Canon 2A, in that he failed to respect and comply with the law and failed to conduct himself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
- Canon 2B, in that he failed to avoid conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.
- Canon 3, in that he failed to perform the duties of his office impartially.
- Canon 3A(6), in that he failed to abstain from public comment about a pending proceeding in his own court.
Prosecutors with the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which filed the charges, said Moore’s order sought to have probate judges defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that declared gay marriage legal nationwide and halt the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Moore testified that it was only a “status report” to probate judges.
In its 50-page order on Friday, the COJ stated it did not find credible Moore’s claim that the purpose for the Jan. 6 order was “merely to provide a ‘status update’ to the state’s probate judges.”
“We likewise do not accept Chief Justice Moore’s repeated argument that the disclaimer in paragraph 10 of the January 6, 2016, order – in which Chief Justice Moore asserted he was ‘not at liberty to provide any guidance … of the effect of Obergefell on the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court’ – negated the reality that Chief Justice More was in fact ‘ordering and directing’ the probate judges to comply with the API orders regardless of Obergefell or the injunction in Strawser (federal case in Alabama).”
Moore’s attorney, Mat Staver, stated in a press release that the COJ couldn’t agree on an outright removal of Moore from the bench so it decided to suspend him for the rest of his term.
“To suspend Chief Justice Moore for the rest of his term is the same as removal. The COJ lacked the unanimous votes to remove the Chief, so the majority instead chose to ignore the law and the rules,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel.
The COJ decision states: “A majority of this court also agrees with the JIC that the only appropriate sanction for Chief Justice Moore is removal from office. Removal of a judge from office, however, requires ‘the concurrence of all members sitting … It is clear there was not a unanimous concurrence to remove the Chief from office, so the COJ suspends him for the remainder of his term. In other words, the COJ did what the rules say they cannot do. There is no meaningful difference between suspension for the remaining of the term and removal from office.”
The nine-member Court of the Judiciary had several options – acquit Moore, remove him from the bench, suspend him without pay for as many months as it wished, or issue a statement of censure expressing disapproval. Removal from the bench required a unanimous decision and any of the other sanctions require a minimum 6-3 vote.
Other judges in the past have been suspended by the COJ for the remainder of their terms.
Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the original complaint against Moore that led to the JIC charges against the chief justice stated this moring that the COJ “has done the citizens of Alabama a great service by suspending Roy Moore from the bench.”
“He (Moore) disgraced his office and undermined the integrity of the judiciary by putting his personal religious beliefs above his sworn duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution,” Cohen stated. “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.”
COJ says Moore had a similar defiance strategy in 2003
The COJ also stated that Moore’s “arguments that his actions and words mean something other than what they clearly express is not a new strategy.”
The COJ quoted from the court’s order from 2003 removing Moore from the bench for defying the federal court order to remove the 10 Commandments from the courts building. That 2003 order quoted Moore as saying then that: “I did what I did because I upheld my oath. And that’s what I did, so I have no apologies for it. I would do it again. I didn’t say I would defy the court order. I said I wouldn’t move the monument. And I didn’t move the monument, which you can take as you will.”
“Just as Chief Justice Moore’s decision that he wouldn’t ‘move the monument” was, in fact, defiance of the federal court order binding him, a disinterested reasonable observer, fully informed of all the relevant facts, would conclude that the undeniable consequence of the January 6, 2016, order was to order and direct the probate judges to deny marriage licenses in direct defiance of the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell and the Strawser injunction.”
Despite the 2003 removal Moore was re-elected to the chief justice job in 2012.
The current controversy arose in January 2015 after a federal judge in Mobile, Callie Granade, issued an order declaring unconstitutional Alabama’s marriage laws, which prohibited same-sex marriage.
Moore, a staunch opponent of gay marriage, issued letters and orders to probate judges telling them not to issue the licenses in the days following Granade’s order. Then on March 3, 2015 the Alabama Supreme Court issued an order telling the probate judges not to issue the licenses. Moore recused himself from that order.
The state supreme court’s order was issued based on a petition filed by the Alabama Policy Institute (API) and other groups that opposed gay marriage.
Granade later ordered the probate judges to issue the licenses, but suspended her order until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Obergefell case. The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) issued that ruling declaring same-sex marriage legal nationwide on June 26, 2015.
Days following the SCOTUS ruling the Alabama Supreme Court issued a request for parties in the API petition to submit briefs on how the SCOTUS decision affected its order to probate judges in the API case by July 6, 2015.
But the Alabama Supreme Court didn’t rule immediately.
Moore granted interviews about the SCOTUS ruling declaring same-sex marriage legal and by fall had written two letters to his colleagues on the state supreme court asking them to issue an order either way in the API case.
Then on Jan. 6 Moore issued his administrative order telling judges that the state supreme court’s from March 2015 order was still in place and they are still required to follow it. But he also included a line in it that he wasn’t able to provide any guidance to the probate judges on the effect of Obergefell on the Alabama Supreme Court order.
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed several complaints against Moore in 2015 to the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) regarding Moore’s public comments about gay marriage and the orders and letters he filed.
The SPLC filed another one after Moore’s Jan. 6 order. It was that last complaint that led the JIC to file the charges against Moore.
Moore testified Wednesday that the Jan. 6 order was just a status report to the probate judges and he wasn’t ordering them to defy the federal courts. But at the end of the administrative order it states: “Until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court that Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act remain in full force and effect.”
Cohen, of the SPLC, said after Wednesday’s trial that Moore had been playing “word games.”