May 7, 2016

Chief Judge Who Refused to Issue Same Sex Marriage Licenses Gets Suspended


                                                                          
                                                                         
Roy Moore responds to complaintsAlabama Chief Justice Roy Moore responds to complaints made in January by various groups protesting his administrative order explaining the legal status of the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Act and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act in Montgomery, Ala. (Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com)
 























An Alabama judicial oversight body on Friday filed a formal complaint against Roy S. Moore, the chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court, charging that he had “flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority” in ordering the state’s probate judges to refuse applications for marriage licenses by same-sex couples.

As a result of the charges, Chief Justice Moore, 69, has been immediately suspended from the bench and is facing a potential hearing before the state’s Court of the Judiciary, a panel of judges, lawyers and other appointees. Among possible outcomes at such a hearing would be his removal from office.

“We intend to fight this agenda vigorously and expect to prevail,” Chief Justice Moore said in a statement, saying that the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which filed the complaint, had no authority over the charges at issue.

Referring to a transgender activist in Alabama, Chief Justice Moore said the commission had “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.”

It is the second complaint lodged by the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission against the judge. In 2003, he was ousted by the same body from his position as chief justice after disobeying a federal court order to remove a two-ton monument of the Ten Commandments that he had installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building.

He was elected to that office again nine years later.

The current complaint concerns Chief Justice Moore’s actions after federal court decisions regarding same-sex marriage. Last spring, he directed probate judges in Alabama not to abide by a Federal District Court’s order striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, holding that issuing licenses to same-sex couples would violate the Alabama Constitution.

In January, six months after the United States Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right, Chief Justice Moore, in an administrative order, instructed the state’s probate judges that they had a “ministerial duty” to enforce the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Nearly all of the probate judges in the state have been issuing licenses to same-sex couples, though a few have stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether.

In his order, he argued that the Supreme Court’s decision applied only to the four states involved in the case that was before the court, and not to Alabama. That view runs counter to that of the federal district and appellate courts with jurisdiction over Alabama, and, according to the formal complaint, is “contrary to clear and determined law about which there is no confusion or unsettled question.”

The complaint lists six charges against Chief Justice Moore, and lays out several violations of the state’s canons of judicial ethics.

Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which had filed a series of complaints to the commission, said Chief Justice Moore “has disgraced his office for far too long.”

“For the good of the state he should be kicked out of office,” he added.

Chief Justice Moore held a news conference last week at which he argued he was upholding the law as he interpreted it in his capacity as a judge.

“This is about legalism,” he said, wearing his judicial robe and speaking to reporters in the rotunda of the state judicial building. “There is nothing in writing that you will find that I told anybody to disobey a federal court order.”

On Friday, his lawyer, Mathew Staver, made a similar argument, insisting the matter at hand was one that could only be decided by the United States Supreme Court.

“The Judicial Inquiry Commission has no jurisdiction to resolve legal disputes,” he said, “and the complaint is solely focused on a legal dispute between federal and state courts.”

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