But disagreement over Georgia law, by itself, won’t signify: Under the Clause, the courts of one state can’t set aside judgments of another state’s courts just because the out-of-state judges don’t agree with the decision—that’s the meaning of “full faith and credit.” So the Alabama judges went into their dance: Georgia courts have power under the statute to allow adoptions; but, they reasoned, that power only exists if they make the right decision. Since in this case they made the “wrong” decision (according to the Alabama court), the Georgia court had no subject-matter jurisdiction; it was in effect not a court at all, and its decree was not binding on Alabama.
The logic was dishonest, and indeed repellent. The U.S. Supreme Court dispelled its force in dry language: “[The Alabama court’s analysis] is not consistent with this Court’s controlling precedent. Where a judgment indicates on its face that it was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, such jurisdiction ‘is to be presumed unless disproved.’ There is nothing here to rebut that presumption.” The Alabama court’s reading, the Court added, “would comport neither with Georgia law nor with common sense.”
Six pages; no dissents; no wasted words. Shoo, fly, don’t bother me.
By contrast, in another case, the Alabama court on Friday took 170 pages to discuss the unremarkable proposition that a state court can’t disobey, set aside, ignore, fold, bend, spindle, or mutilate a judgment of the United States Supreme Court. Here’s the entire operative part of the order: “IT IS ORDERED that all pending motions and petitions are DISMISSED.” Most of the other pages are occupied with sour grapes. Chief Justice Roy Moore (who lost his job once before when he defied an order of a federal court in a different case) was, as always, convinced that the world is eager to hear his views on a variety of subjects. He in his wisdom really thinks Justice Anthony Kennedy is a bad, bad judge for writing the Obergefell decision. Justice Tom Parker (founder of the conservative think-tank that brought the challenge) concurred specially to denounce the Supreme Court’s “despotism and tyranny.”
South of the Mason-Dixon Line, “tyranny” usually translates as “making me recognize the rights of people I don’t like.” It was thus in the days of slavery and segregation. In 1963, the late George Wallace opened his term as governor with the words, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” During the years that followed, the Alabama Supreme Court followed his lead, obfuscating, confusing, and denying the judgments of the U.S. Supreme Court requiring desegregation of schools and public facilities, until it was known around the country, and indeed the world, as a lawless panel of rogues.
The case that ended Friday was a first attempt by the state court to do the same for same-sex marriage. Even though a federal district judge had ordered state officials to follow Obergefell by issuing marriage licenses, a few extremists hoped the state court would issue a call to arms and order the clerks to stop it. The Court dismissed the petition without admitting that the issue is settled.
Wisely, but with ill grace, the state justices stepped back from the brink.