MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A special panel of the Alabama Supreme Court comprised of randomly-selected retired judges has unanimously affirmed the term-long suspension of Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was found guilty of ethics violations by the state Court of the Judiciary (COJ) over his 2016 memo surrounding the issue of same-sex “marriage.”
“Because we have previously determined that the charges were proven by clear and convincing evidence and there is no indication that the sanction imposed was plainly and palpably wrong, manifestly unjust, or without supporting evidence, we shall not disturb the sanction imposed,” the court wrote on Wednesday.
Moore decried the ruling, stating that he had been targeted by those who dislike him for his stance on the institution of marriage.
“This was a politically motivated prosecution from the very beginning, from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Judicial Inquiry Commission, with certain transgender and homosexual groups to remove me from public office because of my stand on same-sex marriage,” he said during a press conference.
“I have done my duty under the laws of this state to stand for the undeniable truth that God ordained marriage as the union of one and one woman,” Moore stated.
As previously reported, in March 2015, six of the nine judges of the Alabama Supreme Court released a historic order halting the issuance of same-sex “marriage” licenses in the state. Moore recused himself from the matter and was not included in the order.
“As it has done for approximately two centuries, Alabama law allows for ‘marriage’ between only one man and one woman,” the 148-page order read. “Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to this law. Nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty.”
Three months after the Alabama Supreme Court issued its order, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges, opining that states must recognize same-sex nuptials. The Alabama court did not immediately lift its order following the ruling as it took time sorting through the matter.
Therefore, in January 2016, Moore released a memo advising that the full court’s previous instructions remained in effect until it issued directives in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell.
“Until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court that Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act remain in full force and effect,” he wrote.
But he also noted that his memo did not weigh in on how June’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling has impact on the Alabama Supreme Court’s directive, and said that it was not his place to make that determination.
“I am not at liberty to provide any guidance to Alabama probate judges on the effect of Obergefell on the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court. That issue remains before the entire court, which continues to deliberate on the matter,” Moore wrote.
In May, after receiving a complaint about Moore from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) announced that it had filed ethics charges against the chief justice and suspended Moore while he faced a trial before the COJ.
Moore argued during his Sept. 2016 trial that he had not issued any orders, but only a status update as the Alabama Supreme Court had not rescinded its previous order following Obergefell. However, the COJ did not believe Moore and found him guilty on all ethics charges.
On Wednesday, the special Supreme Court panel likewise concluded that the memo was more than just a status update.
“A judge does not issue a ‘status update’ that ‘orders and directs’ that a law remain in effect,” it wrote. “Rather, a judge ‘orders and directs’ individuals to do something: in this instance, to comply with a law that is in ‘full force and effect.'”
Moore and his attorneys had especially expressed concern over the seemingly crafty manner that the COJ decided to punish him last fall. The COJ, which had the choices of acquittal, a statement of censure, suspension or removal, noted in its ruling that Moore was not removed from the bench because a unanimous vote is required for removal, and the COJ was not in unison about how the matter should be handled.
Therefore, the COJ decided to suspend Moore, but for the remainder of his term.
“A majority of this court also agrees with the JIC that the only appropriate sanction for Chief Justice Moore is removal from office. Removal of a judge from office, however, requires ‘the concurrence of all members sitting,” it wrote. “It is clear there was not a unanimous concurrence to remove the Chief from office, so the COJ suspends him for the remainder of his term.”
Moore argued that the term-long suspension was tantamount to removal and was therefore violative of the rules.
“It’s a de facto removal,” Moore said. “To have the Court of the Judiciary say that we can’t remove you because we didn’t have the votes, but we can suspend you for two-and-a-half years nearly (the rest of Moore’s term), that’s completely improper.”