Common themes in current, past cases against chief justice

Published 10:36 pm Monday, May 9, 2016

By JAY REEVES | The Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Common threads link the current effort to remove Roy Moore as Alabama’s chief justice with the case that resulted in his ouster from the same post more than a decade ago: Particularly, his conservative Christian beliefs and his views on the power of federal courts.

The Republican is suspended from duty and faces a trial before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary after a complaint was filed Friday. The complaint accuses him of willfully failing to respect the authority of U.S. Supreme Court and lower federal court decisions that cleared the way for gay marriage, which Moore opposes on the basis of his faith.

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Similarly, 13 years ago, Moore cited his religious faith in disregarding a federal judge’s order to remove a massive, stone Ten Commandments monument he had erected in Alabama’s main judicial building in Montgomery. Moore claimed he had to protect the monument because of his faith and oath of office.

“Without an acknowledgement of God I cannot do my duty,” Moore testified at a trial that resulted in his conviction and removal from office on charges of violating judicial canons of ethics in 2003.

Voters returned Moore to a six-year term as chief justice in 2012, and he is again fighting to remain in office while questioning the legitimacy of the effort to remove him. The Judicial Inquiry Commission, which filed the civil complaint involving same-sex marriage, is dealing in matters where it doesn’t have authority, Moore said in a statement.

“We intend to fight this agenda vigorously and expect to prevail,” Moore said.

The charges against Moore came at a tough time for the Alabama GOP. Republican Gov. Robert Bentley is fighting an impeachment effort amid a sexually charged scandal involving a former aide, and Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard is set for trial later this month on felony ethics charges that would result in his removal from office upon conviction.

Speaking during an appearance in Montgomery, Bentley said he always has admired Moore for standing “for what he believes.” The governor said that like Moore, he believes marriage is between a man and a woman.

“But I swore to uphold the Constitution of the state of Alabama and the Constitution of the United States,” Bentley said. “The one who rules on that Constitution is the Supreme Court, so as governor I’m going to always support the rulings of the Supreme Court even if I disagree with them.”

In both the current case against Moore and in 2003, the chief justice was accused of attempting an end-run around federal court decisions he didn’t like.

Susan Pace Hamill, who has observed Moore’s career for more than two decades as a researcher and law professor at the University of Alabama, said Moore’s actions in the two cases are consistent, but still wrong.

“The first thing any first-year law student learns is the supremacy of federal law,” she said Monday.

In the gay marriage dispute, Moore issued an administrative order in January telling probate judges that state laws against gay marriage remain in effect despite federal court rulings that said the opposite, judicial investigators alleged. Years before, fellow state justices had to step in and remove the Ten Commandments monument after Moore failed to follow the federal court order.

Now as then, Moore could be run out of office for his actions. His exact legal strategy isn’t yet clear, but Moore’s wife, Kayla Moore, used her Facebook page to post the names and telephone numbers of commission members who levied charges against Moore. She said they “have aligned themselves with those who hate God, marriage, and the rule of law.”

Rules give Moore 30 days to respond to civil charges filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission. After potentially more pleadings, Moore will face a trial before the nine-member Court of the Judiciary, possibly in the Supreme Court chamber where he presides as the state’s top judicial officer.

Longstanding court rules don’t provide a clear framework for the timing of a trial, but they do say that any delaying tactics “will be treated with disfavor.” In the meantime, Alabama’s all-Republican Supreme Court will continue to operate with eight justices.

AP writer Melissa Brown contributed to this report from Montgomery.