Alabama SC Chief Justice Roy suspended for rest of term

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Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has been suspended from the bench for telling probate judges to defy federal orders regarding gay marriage.

The Alabama Court of the Judiciary (COJ) issued the order Friday suspending Moore from the bench for the remainder of his term.

“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 canon of judicial ethics. Moore’s term is to end in 2019. Gov. Robert Bentley will name a replacement for Moore.

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 Jucial 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 split decision to declare same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

Moore was tried Wednesday before the COJ on the six charges that claimed he violated canons of judicial ethics regarding a Jan. 6 administrative order to the state’s 68 probate judges.

Prosecutors 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 and one of his attorneys said at the trial that the order was just a status report on the state of a petition that had been pending before the Alabama Supreme Court and did not tell the probate judges to defy federal orders.

The nine-member Court of the Judiciary thought otherwise and issued the sanction. The nine member court had several options – acquit Moore, remove him from the bench, suspend him without pay, 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.

Moore had been removed as chief justice in 2003 after refusing a federal court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments he had placed in the state judicial building. He 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.”

SPLC President Richard Cohen said after Wednesday’s trial that Moore had been playing “word games.”

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