Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Suspended From Office, Faces New Judicial Ethics Charges Over his Order to Probate Judges Attempting to Stop Them From Issuing Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, speaks at a press conference at the Judicial Building in Montgomery, Ala., on Wednesday April 27, 2016.  (Photo: Mickey Welsh / Advertiser)
Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, speaks at a press conference at the Judicial Building in Montgomery, Ala., on Wednesday April 27, 2016. (Photo: Mickey Welsh / Advertiser)

The Judicial Inquiry Commission Friday charged Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore with violating ethical rules, over his attempt earlier this year to stop probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

The six charges led to Moore’s immediate suspension in the role. The Alabama Court of the Judiciary, which removed Moore in 2003 and will consider the charges, could order the chief justice removed a second time, though other sanctions could come down.

The Judicial Inquiry Commission accuses Moore of failing to act with impartiality and refusing to follow “clear law” in issuing his Jan. 6 order, which came six months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. Moore is also charged with acting while a lawsuit over the constitutionality of same-sex marriage was pending before the court.

The Court of the Judiciary removed Moore from office in 2003 after he refused to obey a federal court order requiring the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the Heflin-Tolbert Judicial Building, where the Alabama Supreme Court sits. Moore was re-elected in 2012.

In a statement Friday, Moore said the JIC “had no authority” over administrative orders related to probate judges.

“The JIC has chosen to listen to people like Ambrosia Starling, a professed transvestite, and other gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals, as well as organizations which support their agenda,” the statement said. “We intend to fight this agenda vigorously and expect to prevail.”

Moore called the complaints “politically motivated” at an April 27 presser conference. His attorney, Matt Staver, said the orders reflected “a disagreement between state and federal courts on an issue.”

In his January 6 order, Moore argued that the Obergefell ruling only applied to the plaintiffs in the case, and that probate judges could not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by the Alabama Policy Institute and the Alabama Citizens Action Program. The groups, which oppose same-sex marriage, challenged a January 2015 order by U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade which struck down the state’s bans on same-sex marriage.

For the most part, Alabama probate judges ignored Moore’s order. In its charges, the JIC noted that Moore was “bound by the United State Supreme Court’s interpretation and application” of the U.S. Constitution. The JIC noted that the Obergefell decision specifically struck down state bans on same-sex marriage throughout the nation.

“Clearly, probate judges could no longer exercise a ministerial duty to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based solely on their same-sex character,” the complaint states.

The charges state that Moore “knowingly ordered” the state’s probate judges “to commit violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics and “abandoned his role as a neutral and detached chief administrator of the judicial system.”

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the complaint, said the Court of the Judiciary should remove Moore “for the good of the state.”

“Moore has disgraced his office for far too long,” the statement said. “He’s such a religious zealot, such an egomaniac that he thinks he doesn’t have to follow federal court rulings he disagrees with.”

The chief justice, an outspoken social conservative, has made no secret of his feelings on same-sex marriage. In March, Moore said proposed American Bar Association rule change intended to expand protections for LGBT individuals was “subordinating an attorney’s ethical duties to the sexual orthodoxy du jour.”

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SOURCE: The Montgomery Advertiser – Brian Lyman