By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—The fate of Chief Justice Roy S. Moore now rests with the Court of the Judiciary, an appointed body consisting of judges, lawyers, and private citizens. Those nine political appointees are Moore’s judge and jury and will return its verdict within ten days.
But perhaps Justice Moore’s indictment and subsequent trial belies a deeper question of about why the State grants a secretive commission comprised of political appointees with the power to indict an elected judge?
The State’s Judiciary Inquiry Commission (JIC). The JIC, as it is known in legal circles, is an appointed commission, comprised of elected judges, lawyers, and private citizens. The committee acts much like a grand jury. It hears evidence against the accused and then decides if there is probable cause to indict.
In this instance, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a series of judicial ethics complaints against Moore with the JIC, which investigated its claims and recommended Moore be tried before the Court of the Judiciary.
On the day of trial, hundreds sat under the dome of the Heflin-Torbert Judicial Building, not a vacant seat in sight. The packed courtroom was full (mostly with Moore supporters). When Justice Moore entered, there was thunderous applause from his backers, who traveled from as far as Ohio and Michigan to champion the “10 Commandments Judge.”
The prosecution’s argument: Chief Justice Moore once again flaunted the law by defying a federal ruling as he had in 2003, only this time it concerned same-sex marriage and not the 10 Commandments atop an enormous piece of granite.
Outside the Judicial Building, Ambrosia Starling, an advocate for equality who refers to herself on occasion as a drag queen, says it is about justice, equal rights and protection under the law. This same sentiment is partially expressed by those who came to cheer Moore. They believe this trial is another example of justice being held hostage by fashion, not principle, and our nation’s laws are under attack by a more modern culture that ignores tradition. Both camps believe it is about justice and liberty.
The JIC hired Dean John Carroll of Cumberland School of Law to represents it before the court. Carroll as former Legal Director for SPLC caused some concerns in the conservative wing of the justice system and much praise on the progressive side.
The case surrounds an administrative order, letters, and memos by Justice Moore concerning the duties and obligation of the State’s 68 probate judges pertaining to same-sex marriage.
Moore’s attorneys argued the Chief Justice was within his rights and duties to inform those Probate Judge’s concerning legal conflicts between the State and Federal laws; the conflict still exists on paper.
The JIC’s other lawyer, Ashby Pate, said an evaluation of Moore’s Jan 6, 2016, order entertains significant doubt. During the proceedings, he accuses Moore of “wading into the fray” of the [Judge] Grenade January 16 order, by issuing a letter to Bentley saying this was a “destruction of the institution of marriage.”
Pate further said Moore is in the habit of defying any federal law that disagrees with him and called his actions a “game of constitutional chicken” between federal and state courts.
At closing, Moore’s counsel, Matt Staver, argued under the Supremacy Clause, State saying federal and state are equal when addressing the law, and Moore was well within as right as Chief Justice under the US Constitution to issue the administrative order. He also argued the JIC “is not a court of law and has no business coming up with decisions.” And, that the Juris of Alabama Supreme Court, not the JIC, resolve facts.
Lastly, Carroll representing the JIC said removing Moore was the only solution because he would continue to challenge the Federal laws as he did in 2003.
Regardless of the outcome of the indictment and trial of Justice Moore, it raises a serious question about JIC, a body of political appointees who rule in secret, with almost unlimited autonomy. The JIC is like the ancient high court of England, known as the Star Chamber. At its most powerful, the court served as a royal weapon to seek out and punish religious leaders and political opponents it found disagreeable.
According to Britain Express, [King] James I, and his son Charles used the court to examine cases of sedition, which, in practice, meant that the court could be used to suppress opposition to royal policies. The court was also used to try nobles too powerful to be brought before lower courts.
The Star Chamber held all its hearing sessions in secret. It was abolished by Parliament in 1641. However, the Star Chamber name survives today when describing arbitrary, clandestine proceedings in opposition to personal rights and liberty.
In fewer than ten days, Justice Moore’s future will be known. But for now, it hangs in the air like the star painted ceilings above the room that once housed the Star Chamber.