Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, nicknamed the “Ten Commandments judge” for his refusal to remove a monument from the state judicial building in 2003, has been suspended and faces a possible second ouster from the bench he reclaimed in 2013.
The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission filed charges May 6 with the Alabama Court of the Judiciary accusing the chief justice of violating judicial ethics when he ordered probate judges to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015.
“Chief Justice Roy Moore has disgraced his office for far too long,” said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group which submitted the ethics complaint. “He’s such a religious zealot, such an egomaniac that he thinks he doesn’t have to follow federal court rulings he disagrees with. For the good of the state, he should be kicked out of office.”
Cohen said Moore violated his oath of office and judicial ethics when he instructed probate judges across the state to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergfell v. Hodges. That ruling says states cannot deny gays the right to marry and must recognize as legal same-sex marriage performed in other states.
The ethics complaint also claims Moore has repeatedly commented on pending cases, undermined the public’s confidence in the judiciary and improperly lent his office’s prestige to the Foundation for Moral Law, a nonprofit organization he started to “restore the knowledge of God in law and government and to acknowledge and defend the truth that man is endowed with rights, not by our fellow man, but by God.”
“Moore swore to uphold the United States Constitution, but he has demonstrated in the past, and now once again, that he is willing to put aside the law when it conflicts with his personal religious beliefs,” Cohen said. “He cannot be trusted to be an impartial arbiter of the law.”
Moore will be suspended with pay until the court hears and rules on the charges. If found guilty he could be permanently removed from office, though the court can levy lesser sanctions.
In 2005 the Alabama Court of the Judiciary voted unanimously to remove Moore as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for defying a federal judge’s order to remove a two-and-a-half ton granite monument to the Ten Commandments he had commissioned and installed soon after he took office in 2001.
Beginning with the summer of 2003 the monument known as “Roy’s Rock” came to symbolize America’s culture war. A city-by-city tour of the monument on a flat-bed truck launched in 2004 included stops at the exhibit hall during the 2005 Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn. Today the statue rests at Crosspoint Community Church in Gadsden, Ala., where Moore has attended, even though he calls himself a Southern Baptist and his church membership remains at First Baptist Church in Gallant, Ala.
Moore told reporters the Judicial Inquiry Commission has no authority over administrative orders of the chief justice. He said the charges were politically motivated and described the controversy as a case of different interpretations of the law.
Moore is represented by Liberty Counsel, the same group that last year handled the case of Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk jailed after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel, is a member of the First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., appointed recently to the resolutions committee for the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention June 14-15 in St. Louis, Mo.