Roy Moore, Alabama’s quixotic chief justice, faces removal from the bench once again.
The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission charged Moore with six counts of violating judicial ethics Friday evening for issuing an order in January that blocked marriage licenses for same-sex couples statewide.
In its 32-page complaint on Friday, the state’s disciplinary board for judges said Moore had “flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority” by issuing the order and “abandoned his role as a neutral and detached chief administrator of the judicial system.”
Moore struck a defiant note in response to the charges, which he blamed on local LGBT activists. The Montgomery Advertiser has more:
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.”
Moore’s January order followed a complex legal battle over marriage equality in Alabama. First, a federal district court struck down Alabama’s bans on same-sex marriages in February 2015, but stayed its ruling while U.S. Supreme Court considered the issue in Obergefell v. Hodges. The following month, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the marriage bans in a separate case and ordered the probate judges in the state to comply with them.
After the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Obergefell last June, the district court lifted the stay on its own ruling and blocked the probate judges from denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At the same time, the Alabama Supreme Court asked both sides of its marriage-equality case to file briefs on how Obergefell affected its previous orders.
Six months later, while the Alabama Supreme Court continued to deliberate, Moore intervened through his administrative role as the state’s chief justice and ordered the probate judges to enforce the marriage bans on January 6. Moore justified the order as an effort to end “confusion and uncertainty” among the probate judges. But since the district court had already struck down the bans, Moore’s order amounted to an act of defiance against the federal judiciary.
The Alabama Supreme Court eventually dismissed the case in March with a one-sentence order, to which Moore attached a 94-page dissent in which he described Obergefell as “immoral, unconstitutional, and tyrannical.”
With formal ethics charges filed, Moore is automatically suspended from his position as chief justice pending a hearing by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. The court can impose a range of sanctions on judges for misconduct, including censure and removal from office.
Such a fate already befell the staunchly conservative jurist once before while serving as Alabama’s chief justice. In 2003, Moore defied a federal judge’s order to remove a two-ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments he had installed in the state supreme court building. The Court of the Judiciary responded by removing him from office for violating Alabama’s judicial-ethics canon. Voters narrowly returned him to the position again in 2012.