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Ala. Judicial Ethics Commission to Chief Justice: Roy, Bye

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore

The chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court “has made good on his promise of many years ago” to openly defy federal law — and it may cost him his job. 

More than a year after Roy Moore, the stridently antigay top jurist in Alabama, began advising county probate judges to ignore federal court rulings and refuse to marry same-sex couples, the statewide judicial ethics commission is calling for Moore’s immediate removal in no uncertain terms. 

On Friday, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission asked the state’s Court of the Judiciary to deny Moore’s request to dismiss the ethics complaint against him. In addition, the commission proposed immediately firing the chief justice, reports AL.com, a website for several Alabama newspapers. A hearing on Moore's bid to dismiss the charges against him is set for August 8. 

"This court (COJ) can conclude this matter now, deny the Chief Justice's motion for summary judgment, enter judgment as a matter of law in favor of the commission (JIC), remove the Chief Justice from judicial office, and reaffirm Alabama's fidelity to the rule of law," the Judicial Inquiry Commission wrote in Friday’s filing, according to AL.com. 

The Judicial Inquiry Commission filed charges against Moore back in May, accusing him of violating judicial ethics by seeking to stop same-sex marriages from taking place in the state, even after a federal district court and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Alabama’s ban on such marriages violated the U.S. Constitution. Friday’s filing follows up on those initial charges, suggesting harsh remedies to curtail the lawlessness Moore has fostered. 

"Moreover, because he has proven — and promised — that given the opportunity he would ignore our nation's founding principles and flout the rule of law again, the only sanction that will adequately protect the Alabama judicial system, and the citizens who depend on it for justice, is an order from [the Court of the Judiciary] removing Roy S. Moore from the office of Chief Justice of Alabama," the latest filing continued. 

"These actions alone and taken in concert violate the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics," read Friday’s filing. “The Chief Justice has made good on his promise of many years ago, and his continued flouting of our system of constitutional justice regrettably leaves this court (COJ) only one suitable response. This court must remove Chief Justice Moore from office."

Moore was suspended (with pay) in May, after the progressive Southern Poverty Law Center filed a formal ethics complaint against the judge for his January order instructing judges statewide to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges.  

The SPLC contended that Moore committed a breach of ethical behavior by advising county probate judges, who are responsible for issuing marriage licenses in Alabama, not obey court rulings establishing marriage equality. He did so after U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade struck down Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage in February 2015 and continued to do so even after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last June.

As late as January, Moore said the ban remained in force, claiming the federal judiciary had no authority over marriage in Alabama. Most counties issued licenses to same-sex couples anyway, and Moore finally gave up the legal battle in March. He said, though, that he personally believed the ban remained legitimate and that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision was “but the latest example of the Court’s creation of constitutional rights out of thin air in service of the immorality of the sexual revolution.”

Moore had previously said that marriage equality would destroy the nation. He also had equated the marriage equality ruling with the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which maintained slavery in the U.S., and said that enforcing it would be like obeying orders in Nazi Germany’s slaughter of Jews. 

Moore ultimately allowed marriages to continue in March, but he has retained the viciously anti-LGBT legal nonprofit Liberty Counsel to represent him in the current ethics complaint. The self-described Christian nonprofit has claimed that the statewide judicial commission has no legal right to suspend the chief justice while he is under investigation for ethical breaches, and argued that the provision of law that requires judges to be suspended in the course of such investigations is unconstituional, according to AL.com. The suspension provision also violates constitutional guarantees of due process, Liberty Counsel claims. 

The Commission has asked a federal court to dismiss Liberty Counsel's lawsuit against it, and a hearing on that request is scheduled for August 4. 

If the Court of the Judiciary accepts the commission’s suggestions, it would mark the second time Moore has been removed from the bench for ethical violation. The same court removed Moore from his position as Chief Justice in 2003, after he refused to comply with federal orders to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments he had commissioned and placed state courthouse grounds. Alabama voters returned Moore to his position as Chief Justice in 2012. 

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