By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Alabama Supreme Court Associate Justice Mike Bolin may face a judicial ethics investigation by Alabama’s Judicial Inquiry Commission, following the submission of a complaint by Sanctity of Marriage Alabama (SOMA).
The anti-same-sex marriage group filed an ethics complaint with the JIC on Monday, alleging that Bolin violated the State’s Canons of Judicial Ethics by refusing to recuse himself from Chief Justice Roy Moore’s case before the Court, said Tom Ford, the group’s spokesperson.
“Justice Bolin has recently recused himself from Moore’s appeal,” Ford said. “However, he failed to do so in May of 2016 where his impartiality was equally questionable. Why the attempt to save face now? No Alabamian can expect a fair trial with the Alabama Supreme Court with Acting Chief Justice Lyn Stuart and Mike Bolin heading the group.”
The complaint alleges that Justice Bolin violated the Canons by participating in a May 2016 ruling of the Court. At the time, Chief Justice Moore appealed to the Court seeking reprieve after information about a JIC complaint and investigation was leaked to the press.
The case before the Court was decided by a panel of “current and former justices who constituted a special court,” but the details of those proceedings remain hidden from public scrutiny as the record remains sealed. The Alabama Political Reporter has been the only news outlet thus far to sue for the record to be unsealed.
Before the May 2016 case before the Court, Justice Bolin concurred with Justice Shaw’s opinion in Ex Parte State ex. rel. Alabama Policy Institute on March 4, 2016, a same-sex marriage case before the Court. The Alabama Policy Institute had filed motions before the Court seeking to discontinue the issuance of marriage licenses.
In March 2016, The Court dismissed all remaining motions and petitions related to the case. In a special concurrence, Justices Shaw and Bolin agreed with the Court’s decision to dismiss the motions but said the Court should have gone further and denied the motions to be clear that the Court had no jurisdiction in the matter.
To Bolin, the dismissal was a “plain vanilla order of dismissal.”
But even with his special concurrence, Bolin still made it clear he disagreed with the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which effectively legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
“Although I have many times not agreed with a decision of the United States Supreme Court, or a decision of the Alabama Supreme Court for that matter, I have never criticized an opinion from any court in the manner in which I regrettably do so today,” Bolin said in the March opinion of the Court.
However, Bolin said he could not “placate the heart at the expense of the head” by attempted to defy the US Supreme Court. “Should anyone do so, our constitutional republic would begin to cease being a nation of laws,” he said at the time.
And the complaint doesn’t even center around Justice Bolin’s own special concurring opinion.
It is concerned with Justice Greg Shaw’s special concurrence, which Sanctity of Marriage Alabama argues “strongly condemned the actions” of Chief Justice Moore. The group said in their complaint that the opinion was published and “used multiple times by those on a crusade to remove Chief Justice Moore.”
“Chief Justice Moore and Justice Parker have assumed for themselves the mantle of authority to declare a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States an illegitimate nullity,” Shaw said in his opinion.
They said Bolin concurred with Shaw’s opinion, thus bringing his impartiality into question.
Shaw went on to criticize Moore’s issuance of two administrative orders on Jan. 6, 2016, and Feb. 8, 2015. In the orders, Moore urged the state’s 67 probate judges to continue applying State laws, judicial decisions and amendments in defiance of the federal court ruling.
Moore was suspended from office on Sept. 30 for his Jan. 6 administrative order.
SOMA’s complaint delivered to the JIC on Monday argues that Justice Bolin should have recused himself from all of Moore’s cases for having participated in the public criticism of Moore’s decisions and issuing a special concurring decision in the March 2016 Supreme Court Decision. Chief Justice Moore also concurred specially and refused to recuse himself, despite pressure to do so.
“After almost two years of controversy, joining in a blistering opinion condemning Chief Justice Moore’s actions, and with thorough personal knowledge of inside details related to the cases surrounding Chief Justice Roy Moore, there is no doubt that Justice Mike Bolin is prejudiced,” Ford said.
Justice Bolin “acted hypocritically and cannot be trusted to impartially carry out the administration of justice in the State of Alabama,” Ford went on to say.
SOMA also argues that Justice Bolin improperly participated in the firing of several of Chief Justice Moore’s staff, and that Justice Bolin improperly participated in the Court’s ruling refusing to unseal the Court documents.
On Oct. 31, Justice Bolin and the remaining seven justices recused themselves from Moore’s appeal.
“Justice Mike Bolin’s failure to disqualify himself from the sealed case after essentially condemning Chief Justice Moore in a widely published opinion, his refusal to unseal the relevant case, and his attempt to save face by recusing from the appeal court has levied dishonor upon the Alabama judiciary, compromised the high standard of conduct to which he is bound, betrayed the integrity of the judiciary, failed to avoid impropriety in all of his actions, failed to perform the duties of his office impartially, failed to avoid conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, and failed to conduct himself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and the impartiality of the judiciary,” Ford wrote.
The complaint accuses Justice Bolin of violating Canons 1, 2A, 2B and 3C1. If the JIC files charges against Justice Bolin, he will be automatically suspended from the Supreme Court pending his trial before the Court of the Judiciary.
SOMA also recently filed a complaint against Acting Chief Justice Lynn Stuart, who SOMA says improperly fired Chief Justice Moore’s staff.
In September, Chief Justice Moore was suspended for the rest of his term by the Court of the Judiciary for violating the State’s Canons of Judicial Ethics. The Court ruled that Chief Justice Moore improperly directed the State’s probate judges to defy the federal courts.
Moore appealed that case to the Alabama Supreme Court in October, and the case before a 7-member Special Supreme Court, appointed earlier this month, is still pending.