MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore the fiery Deep South jurist has been here before.
Moore was removed as chief justice over a decade ago for refusing to obey a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building. Moore faces removal from office again, this time on accusations that he urged 68 probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The Court of the Judiciary, a state panel that disciplines judges, will hold what is expected to be a one-day trial-like proceeding on Wednesday to determine if Moore violated canons of judicial ethics with a January directive to probate judges. Moore in a Jan. 26 administrative order wrote that a 2015 order from the state Supreme Court to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples remained in “full force and effect.” The order came six months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled gays and lesbians had a fundamental right to marry and after a federal judge said Alabama should follow that decision.
“We fully expect Roy Moore to be removed from the bench. I think it is the only sanction that is appropriate,” Richard Cohen, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center which lodged the initial complaint against Moore. “This time he urged 68 probate judges to defy a court order,” Cohen said
Moore has contended he did not tell anyone to defy the courts. The purpose of the memo, Moore and his attorneys argue, was to answer questions from probate judges about the status of the March order since six months had passed since the court asked for briefs on what to do with it.
“It was a status report,” his attorney Mat Staver said of the Jan. 6 administrative order. “He didn’t tell people to disobey the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Staver, who also represented Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, said Moore’s accusers never mention a part of the memo in which Moore’s says he is not at “liberty” to offer guidance on the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
John Carroll, a former federal magistrate judge who will litigate the case for the Judicial Inquiry Commission, told the court last month that Moore’s intent was clear and that he should not be allowed to “pretend away” the charges.
Carroll said Moore had displayed escalating frustrations and actions as same-sex marriage became a reality in Alabama, including sending Gov. Robert Bentley a 2015 letter urging the state to stand up to judicial tyranny after a federal judge ruled Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.
“He was on a mission not to recognize federal law on same-sex couples,” Carroll told the court in a hearing last month.
Moore had been an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage, even predicting on the 2012 campaign trail that it would bring the “ultimate destruction” of the country. Staver argued that Moore can’t be put on trial for his personal beliefs and only his actions are relevant to the case.
Staver said he did not know if Moore would take the witness stand. However, some of Moore’s long-time supporters said they expect him to do so just as he did in the 2003 Ten Commandments case.
“He’s going to testify. I know he is. The news is going to be Judge Moore himself is going to testify,” said Dean Young, a long-time Moore supporter.
Moore, a graduate of West Point military academy, was a little known country judge when he hung a homemade Ten Commandments monument in his Etowah County courtroom. The American Civil Liberties Union in 1995 sued over the display and Moore’s habit of opening court with prayer.
The notoriety helped Moore get elected as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2000. Soon after taking office, he had a 5,280-pound granite Ten Commandments monument installed in the lobby of the state judicial building. A federal judge rules that the display was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The Court of the Judiciary in 2003 removed Moore from the bench after Moore failed to obey a court-imposed deadine to remove the monument. Moore was re-elected as chief justice in 2012, a victory he described as a vindication.
Moore’s supporters and opponents are expected to fill the steps of the Alabama Judicial Building in dueling rallies ahead of the Wednesday trial.
It will require a unanimous vote on the nine-member Court of the Judiciary to remove Moore from office.
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