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October 3, 2016 – Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is rightly suspended without pay for the remainder of his term, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a decision issued just one day after Moore’s ethics trial, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary punished the state’s top jurist for his attempts to undermine the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
“The people of Alabama are better off without Roy Moore on the court,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “He is an embarrassment to the state, and his antics long ago became tiresome.”
Moore was charged with violating judicial ethics for trying to block enforcement of the 2015 Obergefell ruling. After a federal judge in 2014 struck down an Alabama law barring marriage between couples of the same sex, Moore sent a letter to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) questioning the authority of the federal courts to nullify Alabama laws.
Then, six months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Moore issued an “administrative order” in January 2016 to probate judges in the state insisting that marriage equality was still not legal in Alabama. The order was clearly designed to dissuade the judges from issuing marriage licenses to couples of the same sex.
As a result, couples in multiple counties could not get licenses. So Americans United stepped in, and together with allied groups, secured a federal-court order in Strawser v. Strange that permanently prevents the state from enforcing its old marriage equality ban.
A number of individuals and groups filed complaints against Moore, and the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission began investigating the matter. That body eventually recommended Moore face trial.
In its unanimous decision for In The Matter Of: Roy S. Moore, the nine-judge panel wrote:
“Beyond question, at the time he issued the January 6, 2016, order Chief Justice Moore knew about Obergefell and its clear holding that the United States Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to marry. Similarly, at the time he issued the January 6, 2016, order he knew the binding application of the federal injunction in Strawser….Further, this intentional omission was a failure to follow clear law and a failure to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.”
Today’s decision is not the first time Moore has been punished by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. In 2003, Moore was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court for ignoring an order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Judicial Building in Montgomery. Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center sued Moore over that display in 2001. Moore was found to have violated the Constitution when he put up the display, yet he refused to take it down. (Moore was reelected to his old post in 2012).
Although Moore was not formally removed from the bench this time, the Court of the Judiciary’s action ensures that he will not return to the court. Alabama law prevents judges from being elected or appointed beyond the age of 70. Moore turns 70 in February of 2017.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.