Alabama’s anti-gay chief justice, Roy Moore, was on trial before a state ethics board yesterday. He stands accused of instructing Alabama officials to defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision. Based on media reports, it seems the longtime foe of Americans United didn’t make a very strong case for keeping his job.
But before we get to that, here’s a recap of events leading up to this point:
Moore, who heads Alabama’s highest court, is charged with trying to block enforcement of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized marriage equality nationwide. After a federal judge struck down an Alabama law barring marriage between same-sex couples in 2014, Moore sent a letter to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) questioning the authority of the federal courts to nullify Alabama laws. It was an old (and false) argument from the Civil War era.
The scene outside Moore's trial. He has plenty of fans - and detractors. (Credit: Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
Six months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Moore issued an odd “administrative order” to probate judges in the state insisting that marriage equality was still not legal in Alabama. The order was clearly designed to dissuade the judges from issuing marriage licenses to couples of the same sex.
As a result, couples in multiple counties were stopped from getting licenses. So Americans United stepped in, and together with allied groups, eventually secured a federal order that permanently prevents the state from enforcing its old marriage equality ban.
But that wasn’t the end of the matter. A number of individuals and groups filed complaints against Moore, and the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission began investigating the matter. That body eventually recommended Moore face trial.
Yesterday, Moore attempted to defend his actions before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. He claimed on the witness stand that he “would not defy a federal court. I don’t defy federal courts within the law.”
Moore is playing word games here. He says he obeys federal courts within the law. The problem is that he believes he has the right to ignore those courts when he concludes they aren’t operating within the law – that is, whenever a federal court hands down a ruling that Moore does not agree with.
This isn’t Moore’s first time before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, and the last time he faced trial before that body he was convicted – of defying a federal court order.
Back in 2003, Moore was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court for ignoring an order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Judicial Building in Montgomery. Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center sued Moore over that display in 2001. Moore was found to have violated the Constitution when he put up the display, yet he refused to take it down. That cost him his job. (Unfortunately, he was reelected to his old post in 2012).
Moore is being defended this time by Mat Staver of the anti-gay Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right legal group. (Staver also represents Kentucky clerk Kim Davis). Staver offered a pretty weak defense of his client. The New York Times reported that Staver offered a bizarre theory – that Moore didn’t do anything wrong because, well, the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision didn’t apply to Alabama since the case involved an Ohio couple. He also opined that marriage equality remains an open question in the United States and Moore was only issuing guidance to probate judges who may have been confused by the allegedly unclear nature of the ruling.
Of course that is all ridiculous. The Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the land, sets precedent for all other courts in the nation. There is nothing unclear about that. Staver and his hack legal theories simply do not hold up.
The case is expected to be decided early next month, and if Moore is found guilty he could be removed from his position. In the meantime, he is suspended with pay.
It seems obvious that Moore has no respect for the Constitution and is more interested in grandstanding and making up his own rules than enforcing the laws of this nation. As such, he is unfit to sit on any bench and should be removed from his post. Again.