Spare a thought for Roy Moore.
Moore likely thought that as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court he’d finally have the authority to enforce God’s moral law. Theocracy has, after all, been the raison d’etre of his career. But our secular legal system – or Satan, depending on who you ask – has thwarted him at every turn.
In 2003, a federal court forced Moore to remove a 5,200-lb. granite monument of the Ten Commandments from the state courthouse. The Court of the Judiciary subsequently removed him from his role as chief justice. Like the phoenix, Moore’s career revived in 2012 thanks to the good people of Alabama, who voted to return him to the state’s highest court. Since then, he’s done his level best to rule based on his interpretation of the Bible rather than the U.S. Constitution.
But Moore’s best states’ rights arguments failed to block marriage equality in the state, and now the U.S. Supreme Court has dealt him another blow.
On Monday, the justices in Washington ruled that Alabama cannot void a Georgia adoption decree granting a lesbian woman parental rights to the three children she shares with her former partner. The woman, identified by the initials V.L., had lived with her partner, E.L., in Alabama from 1995 to 2011. The couple briefly moved to Georgia in 2006, where V.L. officially adopted E.L.’s children. The family then returned to Alabama.
In 2011, the couple separated, and E.L. blocked her now-former partner from seeing the children. V.L. sued. And thanks to Moore and friends, this custody dispute became a mini-referendum on marriage equality. He and his fellow justices ruled that Georgia failed to interpret its own laws correctly in granting parental rights to V.L. V.L. appealed that decision with the assistance of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
In a unanimous ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court justices found that Alabama had failed to give “full faith and credit” to the Georgia adoption decree. As Garrett Epps reported for The Atlantic, the Constitution requires states to respect “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings” issued by courts in other states. A court in Alabama, therefore, has no constitutional right to rule that a court in Georgia erred by legalizing an adoption.
What’s more, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that Moore and his fellow justices actually misread Georgia law, and that voiding the adoption “would comport neither with Georgia law nor with common sense.”
In a statement to the press, V.L. expressed gratitude for the ruling, saying, “I have been my children's mother in every way for their whole lives. ... [When] the Alabama Court said my adoption was invalid and I wasn't their mother, I didn’t think I could go on. The U.S. Supreme Court has done what’s right for my family.”
What’s especially interesting about this is that the U.S. Supreme Court acted through an unsigned opinion. The justices didn’t brief the matter or hear oral arguments – they just issued an order voiding the Alabama ruling. This isn’t a step the high court takes lightly, and it’s a sign that the justices realized that the Alabama court got it badly wrong.
Moore has been relatively quiet since Monday, which may mean he’s accepted defeat. But he’s made it clear he does not believe that all decisions issued by the U.S. Supreme Court apply to him, and his erratic behavior on the bench makes it difficult to guess what he may do next.
What is clear, however, is that the law is squarely on V.L.’s side – and it always has been. Moore’s crusade against marriage equality subjected a family to unnecessary pain. It’s time he remembered that he’s the state’s chief justice, not its high priest.