While making it clear they were not taking a stand on the validity of same-sex marriage or the Supreme Court’s authority, a panel of Alabama judges ruled Friday Chief Justice Roy Moore will be suspended for the remainder of his term, for the second time in his legal career.
The court found him guilty of all six charges of violation of canon of judicial ethics, for telling probate judges to defy federal orders regarding gay marriage.
“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 by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, or COJ, stated.
Moore’s term is to end in 2019. Gov. Robert Bentley will name a replacement for Moore.
Moore was already under suspension pending the decision. His term is set to end in 2019, and unless he were to win on appeal to Alabama’s state supreme court, the ruling effectively means he will never return to the bench. State law prohibits him from running again. Moore is 69, and the law bars anyone 70 or older from being elected or appointed to elected office.
The COJ panel took great pains to explain the decision to suspend Moore had nothing to do with his opposition to marriage equality.
“At the outset, this court emphasizes that this case is concerned only with alleged violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics,” said the panel in its written opinion. “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 made clear it was neither reviewing nor editorializing on the merits of Obergefell v. Hodges, the United States Supreme Court’s 5-4 split decision in June 2015 to declare same-sex marriage legal nationwide.
The charges focused on an administrative order by Moore sent on Jan. 6 to the state’s 68 probate judges.
Prosecutors said that was Moore’s attempt to 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 claimed under oath that it was only a “status report” to probate judges, but the panel didn’t consider that argument credible.
“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 Moore was in fact ‘ordering and directing’ the probate judges to comply with the API orders regardless of Obergefell or the injunction in Strawser (which was another federal case in Alabama).”
Liberty Counsel, the Christian-run law advocacy group that represented Kim Davis in her legal battles in Kentucky, claimed in a news release after the decision that the COJ could not find a way to remove Moore from the bench so it settled on extending his suspension.
Either way, unless he were to win on appeal, he’s done as a judge and as a chief judge in Alabama.