October 01, 2016 - 10:55 AM
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore built his career on defiance, and it has cost him his job — twice.
A disciplinary panel that removed him from office 13 years ago over a Ten Commandments monument suspended him Friday for the remainder of his term for defying the federal courts on gay marriage.
The court ruled that Moore wrongly urged 68 state probate judges "to stop complying with binding federal law" when he told them in January that they remained bound by a 2015 state court order to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples.
Long a symbol of the culture wars after his Ten Commandments fight, the outspoken Republican judge is now focused on appealing his suspension. He said he doesn't know what will happen next.
No one expects Moore to fade quietly into obscurity, said Wayne Flynt, a historian who has written several books on Alabama.
"It makes him a martyr," said Flynt, noting that he wouldn't be surprised if Moore made another bid for governor or became some national media figure "being to religion what Rush Limbaugh is to national politics."
"Make no mistake about it, there are a lot of people in Iowa who feel exactly the same way that he does about homosexual marriage, and the Ten Commandments and prayer in school and all of that," Flynt said.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Moore insisted he did nothing wrong and this was not an act of defiance.
"As I said very plainly before the court of the judiciary, I do not believe it's the role of a judge to tell anyone to violate a court order. I wouldn't do that," Moore said. "All I said was these orders existed."
Moore is a West Point graduate with a habit of reciting from memory long passages of scripture and historical documents. He was a little known country judge in Etowah County until the American Civil Liberties Union unsuccessfully sued him over a handmade wooden Ten Commandment plaque he hung on his courtroom wall. The fame propelled him to the office of chief justice in the 2000 election.
Moore almost immediately upped the ante, installing a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. He was sued again, and the judiciary court removed him from office in 2003 for refusing to comply with a federal judge's order to remove the monument. He called the order unlawful, saying he had a right to "acknowledge God."
After his 2003 removal, Moore made two failed bids for governor and teetered on the brink of political oblivion. His political career was triumphantly resurrected in 2012 when he was again elected as chief justice in 2012, a victory he described as a vindication.
In a statement, Moore called his suspension "a politically motivated effort by radical homosexual and transgender groups to remove me as chief justice of the Supreme Court because of outspoken opposition to their immoral agenda."
He said the court of the judiciary, by suspending him for the rest of his term, violated a requirement that judges can only be removed from the bench with a unanimous vote. By the end of his term in 2019, he'll be beyond the age limit of 70 for judges.
The Judicial Inquiry Commission argued the manoeuvr by Moore — an outspoken critic of gay marriage — was not the action of a neutral jurist.
Rep. Patricia Todd, Alabama's only openly gay legislator, said she believes, or at least hopes, the state has moved past Moore.
Most Alabama probate judges were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples before Moore's order, and continued to do so afterward. A passionate crowd rallied around Moore during his Wednesday hearing — with some driving across the country to get there — but it was smaller than the masses that huddled with him during his Ten Commandments stand.
"I think his supporters are very vocal. I don't know anybody who likes him or supports him," Todd said. "I just hope the people of Alabama are smarter than I sometimes see than I they are."
News from © The Associated Press, 2016