By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Those politicos and advocates who follow history should mark Friday, September 30,2016 on their calendars and note it as the day the State of Alabama changed due to the suspension of Chief Justice Roy S. Moore from the Alabama Supreme Court.
There is no reason for anyone on either side of this issue to celebrate. By suspending Judge Moore, the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) and the Court of the Judiciary (COJ) have completely undermined the very institutions that stand for equal justice.
An old and poignant saying to which I wholly agree states, there are two times when an individual should expect fair judgment: when they stand before a court of law and when they stand before their maker.
There are people whom I respect on both sides of the issue of what constitutes a marriage. I have known same-sex couples who have enjoyed, built and remained in relationships with far greater love and depth of commitment than others, in what is considered a traditional marriage, and, of course, I have witnessed the opposite as well. Perhaps I fall into the category of those who feel marriage is not a matter for the state, but a private one. This belief may show my ignorance, as I am woefully underserved in my small capacity to judge such weighty matters.
However, I do have some notion of politics and the things that spark hatred and incite the worst passion which led to unforeseen consequences. I also have some idea of how opportunists move for advantage when those emotions bring gale-force changes.
In our state, judges are elected by the will of the people. Elections may not be a perfect method, but it is the law. Under our system, the will of the people is expressed by their vote. Again, far from perfection, but it beats all other models. But in this instance, the will of the people was overturned by a politically-appointed body. You might say the politically-appointed US Supreme Court does this with regularity…..but do they?
In this case, it appears Justice Moore was forced from office because he had an opinion. A majority of people who arguably hold the same view of resisting federal mandates elected Moore. This majority’s beliefs may be flawed, but these are the realities of our state.
Moore is an anachronism to the sophisticated and progressives and an embarrassment to many Republicans and Conservatives. But Moore is who he is and silencing him by way of suspending him from office without pay only gives his argument of a “lawless court” strength.
If his ethics violation was so heinous, why not render the judgment the JIC attorney called the “only solution” which was removal not suspension? Why did the Court of the Judiciary choose an arbitrary middle ground instead of the full-force of the indictment?
In a word: Politics.
Here is why September 30, 2016, should be remembered: Because an elected judge was indicted by a politically-appointed secret commission with liberal leaning and convicted by a politically-appointed court which feared an onslaught of outrage in the form of name calling and accusation from those who believe Moore was wrong.
Moore issued an opinion that was overruled by the federal court and for this he was in effect removed in a political coup de tat.
Anyone who saw the Will and Grace tribute to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton knows how far the LGBT movement has come. The skit was quaint by today’s standards.
Those on the right should have known the majority of Americans have moved on from worrying about who marries whom. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land, like it or not.
Moore lost that battle on same-sex marriage.
At issue here is the JIC and its power vs. the will of the people. Will they now indict judges whose opinions are overturned by a circuit court or the State Supreme Court? Doubtful.
In Alabama, when a public official is accused of an ethics violation, the Ethics Commission investigates and decides if the matter should go to the Attorney General for prosecution (note: its track record is not so hot).
Here again, a politically chosen body is offering up probable cause. However, the difference is the Attorney General’s Office is elected and employs career prosecutors, not a hired gun like JIC.
The JIC, like the Ethics Commission, should be dissolved and those responsibilities placed into the hands of District Attorneys and the Attorney General’s Office. But that is my opinion.
But if there is an unwillingness to abolish it all together then the State Legislature should move to limit its scope to classic misconduct.
In Moore’s case, the JIC acted as a legal review, not conduct review, but I am certain their lawyers would try and spilt hairs on that concept.
Before Troy King, the Attorney General’s Office served as the prosecutor for the JIC. Upon taking office, Attorney General Strange sought to reestablish that tradition, but they rebuffed him. The commission prefers to hire ideologic, simpatico lawyers. In this case, the very liberal John Carroll. Their unwillingness to work with General Strange alone should cast doubt on the commission’s bias.
At the very least, the Legislature should permanently by law recognize the Attorney General’s Office as prosecutor for the JIC.
As with the Ethic Commission, it may develop a case and recommend prosecution but only the Attorney General’s Office would have authority to bring the case to trail.
Some may argue this scenario places too much power in the hands of the Attorney General, it’s easy to argue this would be a lesser risk to justice than what we currently have with the JIC.
While I only saw one lawmaker at Justice Moore’s trial, they should not ignore what happened. Lawmakers should not shrink from fully evaluating the JIC and recommending changes that present more transparency and accountability. There should be a very high bar established for removing a Chief Justice from office.
I don’t fear that same-sex marriage or what consenting adults practice in the privacy of their homes will harm my marriage. But I do fear and loathe what I witnessed on Friday because it casts a harsh shadow over the future of our justice system. The JIC’s action serves as a dark omen that should be addressed by the State Legislature before unwanted change sweeps away equal justice.
And isn’t that what this was all about anyway?