The last time Judge Roy Moore picked a fight with the federal courts he lost his job as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Unfortunately the people of Alabama were stubborn enough to elect him again to the same job, and sure enough, he has embarrassed the entire state again before the entire nation by again defying the federal courts. As a citizen of the State of Alabama, he has certainly has embarrassed me, yet again.
Roy Moore first made a name for himself after he was appointed to replace a circuit court judge who died in office in 1992. (Moore had previously lost an election for that same position.) After taking office, Moore hung a wooden plaque he had carved depicting the Ten Commandments on the courtroom wall behind his judge’s bench. He also made a practice of beginning every courtroom session with a prayer. Eventually someone objected to both the plaque and the prayers and in 1995 the ACLU filed suit against Moore. An Alabama circuit judge found that Moore had acted in an unconstitutional manner, but that decision was eventually thrown out on a technicality. However, the case brought Moore national media attention which he would later use to seek higher offices.
In 1999 he announced he would run for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court to “Return God to our public life and restore the moral foundation of our law.” Using his fame as the “Ten Commandments judge”, Moore was able to defeat better financed and better politically connected opponents. Not content with displaying his simple wooden Ten Commandment plaque given the far grander position he now held, as soon as he was sworn in Moore started planning a more visible tribute to the Ten Commandments. Moore commissioned a large monument be carved out of high grade granite. The finished monument contained several patriotic quotes and featured two large tablets depicting the Ten Commandments. When it was completed, Moore ordered that the two and half ton piece of stone be displayed in the rotunda of the Alabama State Judicial Building, home of Alabama’s Supreme Court.
As expected, the huge stone religious monument attracted media attention. Roy Moore again basked in the national media spotlight, but even more prominently than before, Meanwhile rational Alabamans (defined as anyone who stands politically to the left of Genghis Khan) shook our heads in disbelief. Roy Moore was again seeking glory at our expense, but the worst was yet to come.
As expected Moore’s action also quickly attracted a federal law suit, and as expected Moore lost with a Federal District Court ruling that Moore had violated the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution which mandates the separation of church and state. Moore appealed the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Moore lost again. When the Courts of Appeals decision was published the District Court judge lifted his stay on his original order and gave Moore 10 days to remove monument. Several days before the deadline, Moore announced his intention to defy the judicial order claiming that since all laws come from God, the federal courts had no right order him to remove his Ten Commandment monument. Again Moore captured national headlines. On day after deadline the eight other Supreme Court Justices overruled Moore and ordered his monument removed from public view.
However, the saga continued. Two days after the deadline, a complaint against Moore was filed with the Alabama Court of the Judiciary which automatically suspended Moore from his duties pending a hearing. In November of 2003 the Court of the Judiciary conducted an ethics hearing and unanimously found that Chief Justice Moore had violated the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics and removed him from office. Moore appealed these decisions to the State Supreme Court which in April 2004 rejected each of his arguments and upheld his removal from office.
While folks like me were justifiably proud that our state’s judiciary dealt properly with Moore’s defiance of a federal court order, to the fiercely conservative elements of the Alabama electorate, Roy Moore was a mortared hero. Moore appeared to confirm my perceptions that he was attempting to use his grandiose stunts to further his political career when he ran for governor in 2006 elections. However, during the election process Moore managed to alienate the Republican establishment and encombant Governor Bob Riley easily defeated him by a 2 to 1 margin in the Republican primary. Moore ran again for Governor in 2010, but this time he ran a poor ran 4th in the Republican primary. More also formed an exploratory committee with an eye on entering the 2012 Republican Presidential primaries, but ultimately decided to lower his political sights.
It appeared Moore’s political career had about drawn to a close when he ran again for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. No one gave him much of a chance of winning, but surprisingly he won the office in a very close election. Roy Moore had been returned by the Alabama electorate to the highest judicial office in the state from which he had been removed on ethics charges six years before. Some people never learn, and evidently Roy Moore and Alabama voters all fall into that category.
Everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before Moore’s deeply conservative religious beliefs again caused the national spotlights to shine their unflattering light on the State of Alabama. That time has arrived and Chief Justice Roy Moore is again defying the federal courts. This time the issue is same sex marriage.
Over the last five years there has been an amazing change in the American public’s view of same sex marriage as well as a growing acceptance of the gays in this country. Even some people who still disapprove of the gay lifestyle have come to believe that depriving gays of the right to marry their permanent partners discriminates against them in matters such as inheritance and hospital visits. Over a relatively short period of time through the ballot and federal court orders, same sex marriages became legal in many states. However, when Alabama became the 37th state to be forced to recognize gay marriages, it was a sure bet that venimently antigay Roy Moore would again take center stage.
In 2006, the conservative voters of Alabama approved with a vote of over 80% the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment to the state’s constitution which banned same-sex marriage. Like the rest of the nation, the percentage of Alabamians favoring same sex marriage has grown. A recent poll showed that the percentage of the Alabama population favoring same sex marriages had risen to 49%, but the state’s constitutional ban remained in effect, at least until the recent ruling by a Federal District Court judge.
Callie Granade was originally recommended for her post of Federal District Judge of the Southern District of Alabama by conservative Republican Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions and was appointed to her office by President George W. Bush. On January 26, 2015 Judge Granade struck down Alabama’s Sanctity of Marriage Amendment and a similar earlier Alabama law as violations of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. Her ruling effectively legalized same sex marriages in the Alabama, but Judge Granada stayed her order until February 9th pending appeals by the office of the Alabama Attorney General. When first the Federal Appellate Court and then the U.S Supreme court refused to extend her stay, Judge Granada lifted that stay on February 9th as expected making her order effective throughout the state.
This is where Roy Moore got involved. In his capacity as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court he issued the following order, “Effective immediately, no Probate Judge of the State of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama Probate Judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent with [state law],” Since it is the probate judges who issue marriage licenses in the State of Alabama, and since the existing state law (which Judge Granada invalided) clearly prohibits same sex marriages, Moore’s order was a direct challenge to Judge Granada’s federal order which she made clear applied to every State of Alabama government employee. Moore also implied that the Alabama’s Governor would file charges against any probate judge who dared to defy his order, but that was a statement which Alabama’s Republican Governor Robert Bentley refused to support.
Moore was quoted as saying, “The only thing that’s changed is this one federal judge has come in and tried to force upon this state something which she cannot do. Her opinion is not law.” On the contrary Justice Moore, a Federal judge’s order is law and trumps state laws and state constitutions, especially when the U.S. Supreme Court declines to stay her order, until and unless the U.S. Supreme Court later decides to overturn it. (By the way, legal experts believe that the Supreme Court legalize same sex marriage for the entire nation when the court takes up the issue in April.) In addition, Moore contends that the probate judges in Alabama are not under federal jurisdiction even though Judge Granada’s order applies to all state employees.
Currently thirty-seven states recognize same sex marriages and in a large majority of these states that recognition came as a result of federal court orders. Roy Moore is thus far the only state official to publicly defy a federal judge’s order on the issue. That order caused great confusion and in some cases inspired defiance among the Alabama probate judges. 20 Alabama probate judges, mostly in large metropolitan areas, elected to issue licenses to same sex couples. 12 openly refused to issue such licenses, but the majority, 40 probate judges closed, their offices and/or refused to issue marriage license to anyone to avoid choosing sides.
Roy Moore has to know that he will ultimately lose this battle, but again he is enjoying the media spotlight as the only defender of ultra conservative religious values with the intestinal fortitude to stand up against the “immoral” federal judiciary. One cannot help be reminded of another Alabamian, George Wallace, standing in the school room door until he was removed by federalized national guardsmen.
Will Roy Moore again pay for his grandstanding with his job as did when defending his right to maintain his Ten Commandment monument in the Alabama State Judiciary Building? The Southern Poverty Law Center, which is based in Montgomery, AL, has again filed a complaint with the Alabama Court of the Judiciary concerning the order Moore sent out to the Alabama probate judges directing them not to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. The SPLC issued a statement saying. “”Moore is once again wrapping himself in the Bible and thumbing his nose at the federal courts and federal law”.
It remains to be seen whether Alabama Court of the Judiciary will again find Moore guilty of ethics or other charges and whether he remain as Alabama’s Chief Justice. However, if he again loses his job we can be sure that he will try to parlay that loss into even greater support from ultraconservative organizations throughout the South. Regardless of the outcome, reasonable Alabamians will again wish they had never heard about a backwoods Alabama judge named Roy Moore. Please understand that there are many good people here in Alabama who are embarrassed to share the same state with this clown.