By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, December 14, 2016, eight current and retired Alabama judges filed an amicus curiae in support of suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) who is suing the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) over his recent suspension.
The judges state several points…
First they are subject to the same disciplinary standards and process used by the JIC and the Court of the Judiciary (COJ) in the Moore case and could conceivably be subject to investigation and disciplinary action in the future.
The judges are concerned that the case the JIC brought against Moore will serve as a precedent in future actions against other judges.
The judges argue that, under current law, removing a judge requires a unanimous verdict by the Court of the Judiciary (COJ). The jurists argue that the lengthy suspension given to Chief Justice Moore circumvents the purpose of the unanimous decision required by the COJ’s own rules for removal of a judge from office.
They further argue that the JIC did not comply with rule six, which deals with notice and investigations. Specifically, Moore’s defenders allege that someone at the JIC released information to the media prior to suspending the Chief Justice.
Finally the group of eight jurists claim that, “The severity of the punishment for the Chief Justice’s administrative speech in this particular case calls for modification by the appellate court lest judges misperceive that their judgement and the expression of that legal judgement must comport with a particular political and religious viewpoint, even when they state a valid, though arguable point of law.”
Judges Tim Riley, T. Lee Carter, John Bentley, Mark Hammitte, Ashley McKathan, Jerry Stokes, Rusty Johnston, and Frank L. McGuire III all signed the amicus curiae. The group are being represented by Winthrop E. Johnson. Four of the judges are retired but still hear cases.
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore staunchly defended the historical standard that marriage be solely defined as between one man and one woman. Advocates of same sex marriage however challenged this traditional view on the grounds that denying marriage licenses to same sex couples is a violation of the Civil War era 14th Amendment to the Constitution. In the landmark 2015 US Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, a narrow five to four majority of the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.
In Alabama, the state’s defense of marriage, act as well as the state Constitution, forbid state officials from granting marriage licenses to same sex couples (though the Supreme Court rulings invalidated these laws). In January, several probate judges asked Moore, as head of the State Court System, for guidance on the topic. Chief Justice Moore refused to give it, claiming that until the Alabama Supreme Court ruled on the issue, such guidance would be beyond his powers as Chief Justice.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) objected to Moore’s failure to order the probate judges to grant the licenses and filed a complaint with the JIC. The JIC agreed and brought charges against Moore in May. In September a majority of the COJ found Moore guilty of violating the canon of judicial ethics and suspended the Chief Justice until 2019.
Chief Justice Moore has challenged that ruling. A special acting supreme court will hear his case sometime in 2017.