By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
The Special Supreme Court empaneled to hear Chief Justice Roy Moore’s appeal has upheld his permanent suspension, which lasts until his term ends in 2019. The suspension effectively ended his judicial career.
The Court of the Judiciary — a nine-member panel that reviews ethics complaints against the State’s judges — suspended Moore on Sept. 30 for issuing an administrative order, which the Court ruled was as a violation of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics.
The suspension, which the Special Supreme Court has now upheld, lasts until Moore’s term runs out in January 2019, at which time Moore will be too old to run for re-election under Alabama law.
In two written briefs filed before the Court, Moore’s attorneys argued that the Court of the Judiciary overstepped its authority by voting to suspend the Chief Justice for the remainder of his term. They said his suspension and the charges against him should be overturned.
The Special Supreme Court did not agree.
“Even though both sanctions are similarly severe, because the Court of the Judiciary was unanimous in its imposition of such a serious sanction, we cannot conclude that the Court of the Judiciary violated Rule 16 of the Rules of Procedure of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary,” the Special Supreme Court wrote in their opinion.
Alabama law under COJ Rule 16 requires the COJ, a nine-member judicial oversight panel, to vote unanimously to remove a judge from the bench, but the COJ evaded that requirement by using a simple majority vote to suspend Moore for the remainder of his term.
During the September trial, the Judicial Inquiry Commission — acting as a prosecutor — successfully argued to the COJ that Moore had violated the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics by issuing an improper administrative order to the State’s 67 probate judges.
The Judicial Inquiry Commission said Moore’s administrative order, issued on Jan. 6, 2016, directed the probate judges to defy the US Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which effectively legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. At the time he said probate judges had a “ministerial duty” to not issue same-sex marriage licenses because of previous Alabama Supreme Court rulings and Alabama’s traditional marriage amendments.
“This opinion and the entire case against Chief Justice Moore is a tragedy. For the first time in the history of Alabama, a justice has been disciplined for issuing an Administrative Order. Under this system, no judge is safe to issue orders or render dissents. The system has to change, and politics should be removed from judicial decision making and disciplinary actions,” said Mat Staver, Moore’s lead attorney.
Moore’s attorneys argue that his order didn’t tell “anyone what to do” and was simply an update or an overview of existing precedent and law regarding same-sex marriage in Alabama. For that reason, they said the charges should be overturned.
The Special Supreme Court found the charges were proven.
“Because we have previously determined that the charges were proven by clear and convincing evidence and there is no indication that the sanction imposed was plainly and palpably wrong, manifestly unjust, or without supporting evidence, we shall not disturb the sanction imposed,” the Special Supreme Court wrote.