By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The people of Alabama have twice elected Judge Roy Moore (R) as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Liberal attorneys have previously objected to Chief Justice Moore’s conduct and formally asked that he be removed from office. In 2003, they were successful. In 2015, they are trying again.
On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announced that they were joining the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) complaint which seeks to remove Chief Justice Moore.
The group said in a statement that the, “Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice is an unethical demagogue, who flouts his oath of office, disregards federal law and ignores the US Constitution.”
The HRC announced that it supports an ethics complaint with the Judicial Inquiry Commission of Alabama seeking the removal of Chief Justice Roy Moore from the State Supreme Court for violating the obligations of his office.
HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said, “Chief Justice Roy Moore is lawlessly disregarding the binding ruling of a Federal judge, and he’s encouraging other statewide officeholders to do the same. Moore’s personal opinions are not at issue here. As a lawyer and as a judge, he has an obligation to follow the law. If he refuses to do so, he should be removed from office.”
The groups accused Chief Justice Moore of continuing, “To double down on a reckless and dangerous pattern of flagrant disregard for the law by urging parties to ignore recent Federal court rulings striking down the State’s ban on marriage equality for committed and loving same-sex couples. In an initial letter following the Federal judge’s ruling, Moore urged the governor to ignore the ruling as non-binding “judicial tyranny.” Going above and beyond this defiant behavior, he then continued his own judicial activism by writing a letter and memorandum to the State’s probate judges claiming they are not required to follow the order.”
On Wednesday, January 28, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a judicial ethics complaint against popular Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) for his comments regarding the controversial recent ruling by Federal Judge Callie Granade, declaring that Alabama’s Marriage Protection Act and Sanctity of Marriage Amendment both violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The President of the SPLC, Richard Cohen wrote, “This morning, we filed an ethics complaint against Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore over his public statements urging the Governor and State judges to defy Federal law and continue to enforce Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriages.”
President Cohen wrote, “We’ve been down this road with Moore before. Many around the country know him as the “Ten Commandments judge.” In 2003, the SPLC filed an ethics complaint over Moore’s open defiance of a Federal court order requiring him to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Supreme Court building. That complaint led to his removal from office.
Cohen said, “Unfortunately, Alabama voters elected him Chief Justice again three years ago.” “Now, he’s at it again – confusing his personal religious beliefs with his duty to uphold both State and Federal law, including the US Constitution.”
Cohen said, “Our complaint spells out three specific violations of Alabama’s Canons of Judicial Ethics: his improper comments about pending cases; his lack of faithfulness to the law; and his disrespect for the integrity of the judiciary.”
Like 2003, the complaint was filed with the Judicial Inquiry Commission of Alabama. 12 years ago the Commission recommended that Moore face ethics charges in the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. That court then removed Moore from his office after Chief Justice Moore refused to comply with an order from a Federal judge to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Supreme Court Building.
SPLC President Cohen said, “Moore is once again wrapping himself in the Bible and thumbing his nose at the Federal courts and Federal law. As a private citizen, Moore is entitled to his views. But as the Chief Justice of Alabama, he has a responsibility to recognize the supremacy of Federal law and to conform his conduct to the canons of judicial ethics.”
Cohen accused More of, “Trotting out the same tired – and disproven – states’ rights arguments that were used to disenfranchise African Americans. Even if Moore isn’t a student of history, you would think he would be a student of his own history. The opinion that removed him from the bench in disgrace more than a decade ago, clearly explained why he can’t ignore the federal courts.”
Cohen said, “It’s an open secret that Moore wants to run for governor again in Alabama.” Cohen accused Judge Moore of wrapping himself in demagoguery to further his political career.
Cohen wrote, “Moore’s action is unethical, irresponsible, and lawless. It’s precisely what got him removed from office the first time. For the sake of all Alabamians who believe in the rule of law, we hope the result is the same this time. The people of Alabama elected Moore to be a judge, not a pastor.”
The SPLC and now HRC complaint stated that in the January 27, 2015 letter Moore sent to Governor Robert Bentley (R) addressing the Granade ruling was written on Supreme Court of Alabama letterhead. Moore instructed Governor Bentley that the definition of marriage is biblical and therefore beyond the reach of the federal courts. The SPLC also strongly objected to Moore’s calling the ruling, “Judicial tyranny.” “Chief Justice Moore released the letter to the press and gave interviews to the media regarding the letter. In an interview with WSFA television, Moore states that “forty-four federal courts and 22 states have bowed down to the tyranny of the Federal government” but that “Alabama isn’t doing that” and that “we will have a confrontation” if the district court’s order is enforced.”
The complaint argues that Chief Justice Moore’s actions violate Alabama’s Canons of Judicial Ethics in numerous and significant regards. “First, the letter and press interviews constitute “public comment.” According to press accounts, Chief Justice Moore decided to write the letter after receiving press inquiries regarding his reaction to the recent ruling holding the marriage 3 restrictions unconstitutional. He then gave interviews to the press regarding the letter and the substance of the ruling. Rather than simply replying that the Canons of Judicial Ethics prevented him from speaking publicly about pending cases.”
The complaint continues that, “Chief Justice Moore penned and made public a letter to the Governor, expressing his reaction to the ruling and urging defiance. Second, Chief Justice Moore’s public comment expressly addresses a “pending case.” The case is the widely reported case of Searcy v. Strange, No. 1:14-cv-00208-CG-N (S.D. Ala.), in which US District Judge Callie Granade on January 23, 2015, entered a Memorandum Decision and Order declaring that Alabama’s marriage restrictions violate the United States Constitution.”
The complaint continues, “Third, Chief Justice Moore’s letter and press interviews also improperly address “impending cases.” It is no secret that legalization and recognition of same-sex marriages in this state may meet resistance, both public and private, and that related disputes almost certainly will end up in this state’s courts. Family relations matters, for example, including those relating to divorce and adoption, typically are heard in state court. Indeed, the plaintiffs in the Searcy case 4 previously had litigated the question whether their out-of-state marriage provided a basis for a second-parent adoption in Alabama State court.”
They also complained that Moore, in his letter, instructed Alabama’s Probate Judges that issuing licenses to same-sex couples would be contrary to law: “I would advise them that the issuance of such licenses would be in defiance of the laws and Constitution of Alabama,” Moore wrote.
The SPLC wrote, “It is difficult to imagine a more patent and undeniable violation of the prohibition against public comment on “impending” cases than for the sitting Chief Justice to advise an entire class of judges on how they must rule on what likely will be hundreds of license applications to be filed in just two short weeks. Chief Justice Moore has violated Canon 3(A)(6) in this regard as well.”
The complaint also accused Judge Moore of a lack of faithfulness to the law and failure of professional competence: “Chief Justice Moore also has violated his responsibility “to be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence.” See Canons of Judicial Ethics 3(A)(1). He denies the supremacy of federal law and maintains that it is trumped by the Alabama constitution and biblical principles. See Exhibit A at 1-2. In doing so, Chief Justice Moore has demonstrated complete disregard of and disdain for one of the foundational principles of our constitutional system—the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.” “Chief Justice Moore has himself taken an oath to uphold the federal constitution, even if there are other sources of authority he agrees with or prefers. This is simply “Constitutional Law 101” – a principle that every first-year law student at every law school in every state in the Union would grasp instantly. Chief Justice Moore’s express rejection of this foundational principle evidences either a lack of faithfulness to a principle of law that is beyond dispute or an utter lack of competence that renders him subject to discipline.”
The SPLC wrote; “Chief Justice Moore’s letter and comments in the press assault the authority and integrity of the federal judiciary and publicly urges Alabama’s Governor to join him in opposing its purported “tyranny.” His letter thereby violates two related Canons of Judicial Ethics.” “Canons 1 and 2 command Chief Justice Moore to act to preserve the integrity and public confidence in the integrity of “the judiciary.” Chief Justice Moore is duty bound to uphold the integrity “the judiciary” as the impartial branch of our government to which all Alabamians – Christian or Jew, man or woman, gay or straight – can turn for justice or for protection from government overreach or intrusion. His wild and unfounded invocation of purported federal judicial “tyranny” directly undermines, and indeed appears intended to undermine, public confidence in the federal judiciary.”
The SPLC and HRC request that the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission investigate their allegations and recommend that Chief Justice Moore face charges in the Court of the Judiciary.
Chief Justice Moore replied to the complaint in a written statement, “As Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, I am the administrative head of the judiciary of this State and it is my duty to advise the lower courts when their jurisdiction is threatened by an unlawful mandate by a federal district court. Our law and Alabama Supreme Court precedent are clear that lower federal and appeals court decisions carry only persuasive authority but are not binding on state judges also sworn to the United States Constitution, and who have equal authority to rule on such matters.”
The popular elected Chief Justice concluded, “I will continue to do my duty.”
Alabama’s Probate Judges are supposed to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Monday, February 9. Some of the judges have already announced that they will not give any couples marriage licenses rather than sign a marriage license for a same-sex couple.
The Human Rights Campaign says that they are America’s largest organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.