WASHINGTON (ABP) — A battle between two heroes of the Religious Right is shaping up in Alabama.
On Nov. 10, Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor (R) asked the Alabama Court of the Judiciary to remove the state's chief justice from office.
Roy Moore, long an outspoken advocate for displaying the Ten Commandments on government property, is facing a trial before the court. He was suspended earlier this year by the state's judicial ethics board after he openly defied a federal court order to remove a massive monument to the Ten Commandments from a state building.
The 5,280-lb. granite monument — engraved with the Protestant King James translation of the biblical commandments — was removed from its spot at the center of the Alabama state judicial building's rotunda in August. Moore's fellow justices on the Alabama Supreme Court overruled his decision to keep the monument in place.
At the time, Pryor announced his intention to cooperate with federal authorities in removing the monument, even though he had earlier defended Moore's position that the display was constitutional.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson declared the monument, which Moore had placed in the building shortly after he was elected to the state's highest judicial post, a violation of the Constitution's ban on government endorsement of religion.
Moore had campaigned as the “Ten Commandments Judge” after gaining notoriety through earlier court battles over display of the commandments in his courtroom while he was an Etowah County magistrate.
In July, a panel of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld Thompson's ruling. Thompson then issued the order to remove the monument.
Moore's trial before the Court of the Judiciary, which begins Nov. 12 in Montgomery, could lead to exoneration or any of a number of punishments, including censure, further suspension or complete removal.
Pryor, as the state's chief law-enforcement officer, is charged with prosecuting the chief justice in the case. In a pre-trial brief, he argued that Moore should be removed because he “flagrantly disobeyed the law, incited the public to support his misconduct and undermined the integrity, independence, and impartiality of the judiciary.” “Because the chief justice intentionally and publicly engaged in misconduct, and because he remains unrepentant for his behavior,” Pryor wrote, “this court must remove the chief justice from office to protect the Alabama judiciary and the citizens who depend upon it for fair and impartial justice.”
Pryor, a conservative Catholic, has been nominated to a federal judgeship by President Bush. However, the nomination has been tied up by congressional Democrats who believe Pryor holds extremist views on issues such as church-state relations and abortion rights.
In the nomination battle, Pryor has received strong support from many Religious Right and anti-abortion-rights groups. However, some of his erstwhile supporters have turned against him because of his prosecution of Moore and because of his earlier cooperation in removing the monument.
Some of Moore's supporters have argued that Pryor's actions are designed to help his chances of winning his nomination battle. Pryor has argued that he is simply standing up for the rule of law.
The Court of the Judiciary is made up of nine members, who are a mix of judges, lawyers and laypeople elected by their peers or appointed by state officeholders. If it rules against Moore, he may appeal to have the case re-heard by his colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court. They could choose to recuse themselves from the case, in which case a special supreme court would be either appointed by Gov. Bob Riley (R) or chosen by the justices themselves.
Although many experts consider the trial an open-and-shut case, removal of the chief justice would require a unanimous vote by the panel. A University of Alabama political-science professor said such an outcome may be in doubt in a state where Moore enjoys immense popular support.
“There are elected judges on that court,” William Stewart told the Mobile Register. “They face their own elections. I'm not so sure they would want to be responsible for removing Roy Moore from office.”