(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) Controversial Alabama “Ten Commandments Judge” Roy Moore lost an appeal before a specially appointed state Supreme Court on Wednesday, meaning his suspension from the ordinary state Supreme Court remains in force until the end of his term in 2018.
Moore’s unusual suspension – effectively if not technically a full removal without pay – was originally imposed last September by Alabama’s “Court of the Judiciary,” a special reviewing body. The panel found him guilty of an ethics violation for advising state probate judges not (yet) to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision requiring that all states recognize same-sex marriages.
This was the second time Moore was removed from his job as the state’s Chief Justice for ethics charges involving defiance of federal courts. In 2003 he made national news when he refused to comply with a direct court order to remove a 5,280-pound Ten Commandments monument – complete with a copyright mark – from the state high court building. Fully evicted from office then (not just “suspended”), Moore lost two races for governor before winning a comeback election to be Chief Justice again in 2012.
Hard-line conservative groups have treated Moore as a folk hero – almost a judicial rock star – ever since his Ten Commandments fight.
That fight actually began back in 1995, when the American Civil Liberties Union sued to force him to remove a small, self-hand-carved plaque of The Decalogue that he had hung in his small circuit courthouse in Etowah County, in northeast Alabama. Moore rode the fame from that case to his first election as Chief Justice in 2000, in a landslide.
Then came Moore’s installation of the huge monument at the state Supreme Court, his strange court battle against orders to remove it (he failed several times to file motions in timely fashion, and never formally appealed the order in the right way), and his political martyrdom – in an ethics trial prosecuted, ironically, by then-state Attorney General Bill Pryor, himself a rock-solid conservative who had argued that reasonable displays of the Commandments were not unconstitutional.
Moore’s two badly failed races for governor followed – and then, just when pundits had written his political obituary, he won a stunning, clear majority against two strong opponents in the 2012 GOP primary, followed by a relatively close general election win with 53 percent of the vote.
Moore’s second eviction from active duty as Chief Justice followed a complicated series of events. First, federal district judge Callie “Ginny” Granade in Mobile ruled in early 2015 that Alabama’s laws against same-sex marriages were unconstitutional, and ordered all probate judges in the state to start awarding marriage licenses to same-sex applicants. She did so without benefit of a U.S. Supreme Court decision to authorize it.
Moore responded by ordering the probate judges not to abide by Granade’s ruling. He was arguably right to do so, as another Alabama-based federal judge, Keith Watkins, effectively ruled in a related case later that year.
Then, however, came the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, which invalidated all state laws that prohibited same-sex marriages. Six months later Moore issued yet another statement, which advised probate judges that despite the national high court decision, his 2015 order to them (against same-sex marriage) remained in force, until the state Supreme Court could resolve questions about how to apply the U.S. Supremes’ ruling.
It was in response that 2016 order – the one after the Obergefell decision – that ethics charges again were filed against Moore.
This time the Court of the Judiciary did not unanimously agree to completely strip Moore from his office. Numerous local legal observers have told me that because, unlike in 2003, Moore was not a “party defendant” to the Obergefell case, but was instead acting as administrative supervisor for the probate judges, the direct ethics violation was not so clear.
Still, the same panel that did not remove him did something arguably more punitive: It left Moore technically in office, but suspended him without pay for the rest of his term. This left him unable to earn a living, and left the citizens of Alabama with one fewer state Supreme Court justice than normal.
Moore appealed, but that repeal was rejected on Wednesday.
Against this backdrop, Alabama’s new governor, Kay Ivey, this week called a special election to fill the remainder of the U.S. Senate term of Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate to become U.S. Attorney General. The primary will be held August 15; A possible runoff would be held Sept. 26, and the general election will be December 12.
At a press conference Wednesday condemning the special court’s rejection of his appeal, Moore did not yet announce a Senate run – which surprised most observers – but said he would announce his next political plans “early next week.” If so, he might be entering a multi-candidate field – but would enter with by far the highest name recognition in the state.