By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
The prosecution and permanent suspension of Chief Justice Roy Moore has caused several lawmakers to question the legitimacy, even the need for the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) and the Court of the Judiciary (COJ).
The COJ ruling in Judge Moore’s case is under appeal before a specially appointed Supreme Court. However, acting chief justice Lyn Stuart has barred Moore from his office, fired his staff and, reportedly, scheduled a new official Supreme Court photograph.
In preparation for the upcoming 2017 Regular Special Session, Sen. Dick Brewbaker pre-filed SB11, which will eliminate both entities.
A slightly different Constitutional Amendment, SB8, is being offered by Sen. Bill Hightower, which would require affirmation from the legislature on any ruling from the JIC and COJ that would remove a sitting justice.
“People on both sides have admitted that they process wreaks of politics,” said Brewbaker in an interview with the Alabama Political Reporter. “An example is how instead of removing him (Chief Justice Moore) from office they permanently suspended him,” Brewbaker said. “They ruled that way because of the effect their actions will have on a future election.”
The JIC, as it is known in legal circles, is an independent commission of appointed members who, according to the statue, was created to investigate, receive, initiate complaints relating to any State judge.
The Court of the Judiciary is another politically appointed entity created to hear complaints filed by the JIC, according to the 1901 Constitution.
Brewbaker’s bill calls for a Constitution Amendment to abolish these institutions.
“For better or for worse in Alabama, we elect judges in partisan elections,” said Brewbaker. “As long as we continue to elect judge then there is no reason for them to be treated any differently than any other elected official where they are removed by the impeachment process.”
Brewbaker also shares some doubt about the having an elected judiciary at all and believes it is a matter that lawmakers should discuss. He also thinks that elected judges should be treated like any other choice of the voters, making them subject to impeachment, not removal by an appointed panel, not beholden to the electorate.
Under current law, when the JIC files a complaint against a sitting judge, that individual is immediately suspended from office without pay. Hightower’s bill would do away with that provision of the constitution.
Judge Moore has been suspended without pay, and many believe this is a political move to force him to resign.
Moore now awaits a final ruling by the “Special” Supreme Court who will either uphold or dismiss the COJ’s decision.
In Hightower’s amendment, in future cases, should the Supreme Court decide to concur with the COJ, the case would then go before Legislature for a final determination. A two-thirds vote by each house of the legislature would be needed to remove the offending judge.
In an interview with APR, Hightower said he became concerned about the JIC and the JOC after citizens in his district questioned their actions against Moore.
“I keep hearing constituent after constituent saying why is an unelected group, a small group, deciding the fate of a popularly elected official,” said Hightower. “I’m not an attorney, but I started to look at what people’s perception was, and it seems to me it was time to give thought to if we had the right structure and right rules to deal with just issues.”
He said after further study he put his ideas into a bill that he hoped would begin a serious dialogue among lawmakers. He was unaware that Brewbaker planned to introduce a bill, saying, “Somewhere in the mix there is a need for rethinking the JIC.”
Hightower said he questioned if it was right to take someone from their position just because of a complaint. He has that section deleted in his bill.
Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker was suspended for much the same reason as Moore. However, he was reinstated after JIC’s investigation failed to find grounds to send the complaint to the JOC.
Brewbaker said he looks forward to reading Hightower’s bill. “I am not tied to my solution… If Senator Hightower has a bill that turns out to be a better answer then I will offer my support,” said Brewbaker. “One thing is for sure: it is not in the public’s interest to leave it the way it is now.”