Alabama Chief Justice goes against United States Supreme Court

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore faces backlash after issuing an order for state judges not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, in direct conflict with the Supreme court of the United States.

“Effective immediately, no probate judge of the State of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama probate judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent with the Alabama Constitution or state law.” Chief Justice Roy S. Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court wrote in his January 6, 2015 order to state’s probate judges.  The order directed the state’s judges not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”) filed a complaint, and the Alabama Judiciary Commission, an oversight body, filed charges against Moore alleging violations of state canon of judicial ethics when he issued his January administrative order stating that probate judges in the state “have a ministerial duty not to issue” marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  “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,” Moore responded. “The Judicial Inquiry Commission has chosen to listen to people like Ambrosia Starling, a professed transvestite and other gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals, as well as organizations that support their agenda.”  Moore vowed to fight what he called an LGBT agenda.

When he was first elected to the position in 2000, a panel removed Moore from the bench…

Moore is an Army veteran and he was a military police company commander in Vietnam.  After his service, he returned home and got his law degree at the University of Alabama in 1977.   Moore has been a folk hero to evangelical conservatives for a long time.  He openly declared his views on same-sex marriage, telling a tea party rally that gay marriage would be “the ultimate destruction of our country because it destroys the very foundation upon which this nation is based.”  This is his second time as the state’s chief justice.  Moore drew attention for his controversial actions in the past.  When he was first elected to that position in 2000, a panel removed Moore from the bench after he refused to remove a Ten Commandments monument he had installed in a state building.

Moore had a 5,280-pound block of granite with the Ten Commandments engraved on it installed during the middle of the night without the knowledge of the other Alabama Supreme Court justices.  “May this day mark the restoration of the moral foundation of law to our people and the return to the knowledge of God in our land,” he declared at a press conference the next day.  SPLC and a group of lawyers who believed that their clients might not receive fair treatment if they did not share Moore’s religious opinion, and that the placement of the monument violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, filed civil suits in federal court against Justice Moore in his official capacity as Chief Justice to have the monument removed.

U.S. District Court agreed with SPLC and ruled that the monument created ” a religious sanctuary within the walls of a courthouse” and, therefore, must be removed.   Moore refused to follow the court order and the eight other justices on the Alabama Supreme Court ordered the Ten Commandments monument removed from the judicial building.  Moore appealed and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld, in Glassroth v. Moore, the lower court’s finding that the placement of the Ten Commandments monument in the rotunda of the Alabama State Judicial Building violated the Establishment Clause.  The monument was located in the center of the rotunda, making it unavoidable for any visitor or employee attempting to access the elevators, stairs, or restrooms.  The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Moore’s appeal.

According the Chief Justice’s own speech given when dedicating the monument and his own testimony during the litigation, the purpose of the monument was to invoke “the favor and guidance of Almighty God.” Moore also refused to place secular monuments in the rotunda, stating that the placement of such monuments “alongside the revealed law of God would tend in consequence to diminish the very purpose of the Ten Commandments monument.”

Moore was elected as Chief Justice again in 2012

As a result of his refusal to comply with the federal court orders, Moore was ousted from office in 2003.  The Alabama Court of the Judiciary issued an order removing Moore from office, and noted that he “not only willfully and publicly defied the orders of a United States district court, but upon direct questioning by the court he also gave no assurances that he would follow that order or any similar order in the future.”  Moore was elected as Chief Justice again in 2012, based largely on his support for the Ten Commandments display.

Moore wrote a letter to the governor, denying that the federal government had the authority to redefine the institution of marriage…

The most recent lawsuit concerns a series of cases going back to last year.  In January 2015, a federal judge in Mobile ruled that Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.  Days later, Chief Justice Moore wrote a letter to the governor, denying that the federal government had the authority to redefine the institution of marriage and insisting that “we must oppose such tyranny.”

As a result of Moore’s administrative order in January 2015, a state Judiciary commission suspended Moore from the bench, stating that the top-ranking state judicial official disregarded “clear law” when he instructed state judges to ignore the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer that established nationwide same-sex marriage rights.  “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.  Alabama’s Court of the Judiciary found him guilty of all six charges by failing to comply with the law, uphold the integrity of the court and “perform his duties impartially.” The commission found that Moore’s order defies not only the high court’s ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, but also two other court decisions.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Moore argued, does not extend to Alabama but applies only to Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.   Moore’s term is to end in 2019, but because of his age, 69, he cannot run for the office again.

The nine-member Court of the Judiciary had four options: (1) acquit Moore; (2) remove him from the bench; (3) suspend him without pay for as many months as it wished; or (4) issue a statement of censure expressing disapproval.  In order to remove a judge from the bench, all of the judges must agree on that option.  The  Court suspended Moore without pay for the rest of his term, which requires a minimum 6-3 vote.

It is unsurprising for many that Chief Justice Moore emerged as a forceful voice in a social debate after the dispute about the Ten Commandments display, ousted him from power.  “Unfortunately, sometimes it makes for very good politics here to be seen as opposing federal intervention, whether it’s from a court or a federal agency,” said David G. Kennedy, an attorney, who represents clients affected by Moore’s order.  “The situation here is that this is not federal intervention.  It’s not federal intervention at all.  What it is is a federal court declaring what same-sex couples’ rights are under the federal Constitution.”  In addition, as SPLC President Richard Cohen said, “Moore was elected to be a judge, not a preacher.  It’s something that he never seemed to understand.”

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About Olga Ivanushko, Senior Staff Writer Emeritus (13 Articles)
Olga Ivanushko is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. Olga is originally from Belarus, but has lived in Hollywood, Florida, then Raleigh, North Carolina for the past 13 years. She earned BA in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Between undergrad and law school Olga worked as a paralegal at a plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and personal injury firm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. After her first year in law school, Olga interned at the North Carolina Medical Board. Olga now interns with the Honorable John M. Tyson at the North Carolina Court of Appeals.