For the second time in his career, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has been suspended from the bench and may face removal from office. Moore was removed from office in 2003 after refusing to follow a federal court order requiring the removal of a Ten Commandments statue from the state’s judicial building in Montgomery.
Now, more than a decade later, Moore faces similar allegations of judicial misconduct after he refused to enforce the United States’ Supreme Court’s ruling declaring that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry, regardless of state same-sex marriage bans.
The charges currently lodged against Moore stem from several complaints to the Judicial Inquiry Commission, the body responsible for initiating investigation of state judges. Those original complaints, one of which was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, claim Moore “has improperly commented on pending and impending cases; demonstrated faithlessness to foundational principles of law; and taken affirmative steps to undermine public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”
In January, more than six months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled no state may abridge individuals’ rights to same-sex marriage, Moore issued an administrative order to all of Alabama’s 68 probate judges saying the state’s same-sex marriage ban was still the law of the land and probate judges have “a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to” the ban.
That action, multiple complainants say, stepped over the legal line. After considering the complaints, the Judicial Inquiry Commission submitted its charges against Moore to the Court of the Judiciary, which will decide whether Moore will remain in office or face removal a second time.
The Judicial Inquiry Commission’s submission to the Court of the Judiciary asserts Moore “flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority,” and charges him with six specific violations of ethical or legal canons:
• Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for disregarding a federal injunction;
• Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for demonstrated unwillingness to follow clear law;
• Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for abuse of administrative authority;
• Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for substituting his judgment for the judgment of the entire Alabama Supreme Court, including failure to abstain from public comment about a pending proceeding in his own court;
• Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for interference with legal process and remedies in the U.S. District Court and/or Alabama Supreme Court related to proceedings in which Alabama probate judges were involved; and
• Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for failure to recuse himself from pending proceedings in the Alabama Supreme Court after making public comment and placing his impartiality into question.
In a news conference addressing the complaints against him, Moore said he felt he needed to publicly respond to the allegations, which he says are being made by “atheists, homosexuals and transgender individuals.”
“For months I’ve sat back while complaint after complaint has been filed … which have mischaracterized, misstated my position,” Moore told reporters in the same rotunda where the Ten Commandments had been on display. “Therefore, I felt it was necessary at this time to address this. This is not about any wrongdoing I’ve done. This is not about ethics. This is about marriage.”
Moore has repeatedly brought up criticism of him made by Ambrosia Starling, a Dothan entertainer, who the Chief Justice refers to as an “admitted transvestite” with a “mental disorder.” Starling, who prefers the term “drag queen,” says Moore’s calling her crazy doesn’t bother her.
“I am crazy for democracy,” Starling told a reporter for al.com. “I’m insane for civil rights and better behavior. I am out of my mind when I see people losing their manners and disrespecting people they don’t know.”
Starling was one of several organizers of a January protest on the court’s steps in Montgomery calling for Moore’s resignation or removal from office. At that protest, Moore claims Starling officiated what he refers to as a “mock” marriage on the courthouse steps, although that claim appears to be untrue. Instead, the actual same-sex marriage ceremony was officiated by Fred Hammond, a Unitarian Universalist minister known statewide for his civil rights advocacy. After Moore’s attacks on Starling, Hammond wrote an open letter to the Chief Justice.
“The facts are Ambrosia Starling did not officiate a wedding on Jan. 12,” Hammond wrote. “I did. I am an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist faith and serve the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa. It is part of my religion to honor and bless the covenanted relations that we enter into, and with couples that includes the rites of marriage. I do not do mock weddings.”
Chief Justice Moore says he will fight the ethical charges against him. “We intend to fight this agenda vigorously and expect to prevail,” he said in a news release.
Moore’s removal from office will depend upon the outcome of a Court of the Judiciary hearing. The court, the same that removed Moore from office in 2013, is made up of judges, lawyers and citizens from around the state. In the previous case, the court said it felt it had no option but to remove Moore from his position as Alabama’s top judge.
“Under these circumstances,” the Court of Judiciary wrote in that case against Moore, “there is no penalty short of removal from office that would resolve this issue.”