Why Alabama's chief justice was forced to step down

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has been suspended from his position for ordering state probate judges to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples in violation of the Supreme Court ruling.

Brynn Anderson/AP/File
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore poses in front the the American flag in Montgomery, Ala. Moore has been suspended for instructing state probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in violation of the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is in trouble, yet again, for allegations that he ordered state probate judges to deny same-sex marriage couples marriage licenses, disobeying a federal court and the US Supreme Court.

The Judicial Inquiry Commission filed a complaint against Judge Moore, charging him with violating the state's judicial ethics laws, allegations that could potentially cost him his position as chief justice. He has now been suspended from the bench, and is facing a hearing before the state’s Court of the Judiciary, a panel of judges, lawyers, and other appointees, the New York Times Reports.

This isn’t the first complaint against Moore from the Judicial Inquiry Commission. In 2003 – during his first term as chief justice – the commission removed him from the same position after he refused to comply with a federal court order requiring him to remove a giant sculpture of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building. He was later re-elected to the position, after two unsuccessful bids for governor.

Moore, a Republican, has been a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage.

In February 2015, after US District Judge Callie Granade ruled that Alabama's policies against same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, Moore still told probate judges that they were not obligated to issue any licenses, Ameri Publications reported. 

The complaint filed Friday alleges that Moore issued an administrative order last January requiring probate judges to halt the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, saying the judges "have a ministerial duty" not to issue the licenses.

"By issuing his unilateral order of January 6, 2016, Chief Justice Moore flagrantly disregarded a fundamental constitutional right guaranteed in all states as declared by the United States Court in Obergefell," the Judicial Inquiry Commission wrote in the charges filed Friday.

Moore argued that the landmark Supreme Court landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same sex marriage nationwide did not apply to Alabama, because it involved a case from a different federal circuit, The Christian Science Monitor's Patrik Jonsson reported, noting that "Legal experts say that is a patently wrong interpretation of American law."

But not all Alabama probate judges followed Moore's January mandate. Of the 67 probate judges, only 13 denied same-sex couples licenses following Moore’s order. And of the 13, nine were already denying the couples licenses before Moore’s order, MSNBC reported.

In a news conference last week, Moore said that he was upholding the law as he understood it, The New York Times reports.

This is about legalism,” he said, according to the Times. “There is nothing in writing that you will find that I told anybody to disobey a federal court order.”

A majority of people in Alabama still oppose same-sex marriage, according to a December 2015 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute. While 54 percent of Americans supported same-same marriage, only 33 percent of Alabama residents said they support it, while 60 percent of residents are opposed.

But as one resident told the Monitor’s Mr. Jonsson, not all residents agree with Moore’s stance.

“As far as Alabamians, it’s funny, yeah, we’re in the Bible Belt of America and people think we are all super behind the times, but we’re all very forward thinkers, and I think the general consensus is that most people down here if they do have an opinion on gay marriage, they keep it to themselves, and the people who don’t keep it to themselves are the people you tell, ‘Yeah, get over it.’ ”

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