Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is once again fighting for his job – and he blames his legal woes on opponents he insists are out to get him.
On May 6, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission announced that it has forwarded six charges against Moore to the Alabama Court of Judiciary. Moore will face a hearing before the Court of Judiciary and if found guilty could be removed from the bench. In the meantime, he has been suspended with pay.
Several complaints were lodged against Moore in January after he attempted to undercut the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage-equality ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, which was issued in June of 2015. Several months after that ruling came down, Moore issued an “administrative order” insisting that an Alabama law banning same-sex marriage was still intact. He asserted that an order from the Alabama high court barring same-sex marriage was “in full force and effect,” and ordered state probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Most of the judges ignored him.
The Commission’s complaint against Moore asserts that he “flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority as chief administrative officer of Alabama’s judicial branch” and that he “knowingly ordered [probates judges] to commit violations of the Canon of Judicial Ethics, knowingly subjecting them to potential prosecution and removal from office.”
Moore says the charges against him are politically motivated and should be dropped. Days before the charges were announced, he called a press conference to denounce several groups that filed complaints against him.
“This is not about religion,” he said. “This is about my marriage and my legal orders.”
During the press conference, Moore bafflingly denied that he had instructed the state’s probate judges to disobey a lower district court or the Supreme Court because his actions were in line with state law – even though that state law was invalidated.
Moore also complained that his legal orders have been “mischaracterized and misstated” by political enemies. Those “enemies” include local transgender activist Ambrosia Starling, whom he singled out for special invective: He called her a “transvestite” with a mental illness.
“We’re in a serious time in our country,” Moore asserted. He added that some of the people who have criticized him “just a few years ago would have been prescribed a mental illness, a mental disorder.”
Starling filed an ethics complaint against the chief justice and helped other activists to do the same. A total of about 30 ethics complaints were filed against Moore. Moore is being represented by the anti-gay Liberty Counsel (which also represents embattled Kentucky clerk Kim Davis).
This is the second time Moore has faced the possibility of losing his job. The judicial oversight body removed him from his role as chief justice in 2003 after a lengthy battle over Moore’s decision to display a large granite carving of the Ten Commandments at the state Judicial Building in Montgomery.
Moore was ordered by a federal court to remove the monument. He refused and was removed from his position. But he was not disbarred and remained eligible to run for chief justice again, which he did successfully in 2012.
The ghost of his previous removal was not absent from Moore’s press conference. Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver claimed that the Judiciary Inquiry Commission, which sends ethics complaints to be heard by the Court of the Judiciary, has no jurisdiction over Moore.
Those arguments didn’t impress the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the groups that filed a complaint against Moore. Its president, Richard Cohen, called the justice the “ayatollah of Alabama” in a statement.
“All he’s doing, of course, is demonstrating once again why he’s unfit to be the chief justice of Alabama,” Cohen told the Associated Press.