‘Not going to miss the Ayatollah of Alabama’: State’s chief justice removed in gay-marriage dispute

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore testifies during his ethics trial before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary on Sept. 28, 2016.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore testifies during his ethics trial before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary on Sept. 28, 2016.

(Mickey Welsh / AP)
Los Angeles Times

Roy Moore, the stridently conservative Alabama chief justice who ordered probate judges across the state not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, was effectively ousted from his position Friday after an ethics panel found him guilty of violating the canons of judicial ethics.

The 69-year-old Baptist, who was also removed from his position in 2003, was suspended without pay for the remainder of his term. He cannot be reelected because of age restrictions.

Moore, who can appeal the ruling, faced six charges stemming from a contentious Jan. 6 order he sent Alabama probate judges, reminding them that they had a “ministerial duty” not to issue any marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing such unions across all states.

In its 50-page final judgment, the state’s Court of the Judiciary, a nine-member panel of judges, attorneys and private citizens, agreed that Moore was guilty of all six charges, including failing to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary and failing to abstain from public comment about a pending proceeding in his own court.


It is not the first time Moore has been punished for his ethical conduct as chief justice. In 2003, Moore was removed from the bench after he repeatedly refused to obey a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of Alabama’s judicial building.

Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement that the Court of the Judiciary had done the citizens of Alabama a great service.

“He disgraced his office and undermined the integrity of the judiciary by putting his personal religious beliefs above his sworn duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution,” Cohen said. “Moore was elected to be a judge, not a preacher. It’s something that he never seemed to understand. The people of Alabama who cherish the rule of law are not going to miss the Ayatollah of Alabama.”

On the witness stand Wednesday, Moore — who once referred to homosexuality as “abhorrent, immoral, detestable” — played down his moral beliefs, saying his order “had nothing to do with the way I feel about same-sex marriage.”

Dismissing the scrutiny of his ethical conduct as “ridiculous,” Moore maintained he was just trying to address confusion among probate judges over conflicting state and federal orders. He insisted that he did not instruct judges to defy the federal courts, but was merely issuing a “status report,” instructing them that the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell vs. Hodges ruling on existing cases still awaited a decision by the Alabama Supreme Court.

In its final judgment, the panel stated that it did not accept his argument. “The reality,” appellate court judge J. Michael Joiner wrote on behalf of the panel, was “that Chief Justice Moore was in fact ‘ordering and directing’ the probate judges.”

Moore’s January order was widely interpreted as a last-ditch stand in the ongoing war between the state and federal judiciary over same-sex marriage. Early last year, a federal judge ruled that same-sex couples have a right to wed in Alabama. However, two months later, the Alabama Supreme Court declared that the state’s ban on same-sex marriages was constitutional and ordered probate judges to enforce it.

After the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in its historic ruling in June 2015, U.S. District Judge Callie V. Granade ruled that it was binding on the state. In October, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling “held that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional” and “abrogated” existing orders.


In its final judgment, the Alabama panel took pains to stipulate that its decision did not concern whether the state should recognize same-sex marriage, noting that some of its members did not personally agree with the reasoning of the majority decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This case is concerned only with alleged violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics,” Joiner wrote. “This case is not about whether same-sex marriage should be permitted: indeed, we recognize that a majority of voters in Alabama adopted a constitutional amendment in 2006 banning same-sex marriage, as did a majority of states over the last 15 years. This court simply does not have the authority to reexamine those issues.”

Some have speculated that Moore may use this latest controversy to kick off a campaign for governor or attorney general.

But some political experts note that though Moore performs well with the Republican base — a recent poll of likely GOP voters put him atop a list of the party’s possible 2018 gubernatorial candidates — he is unlikely to win over the general electorate. In 2006 and 2010, he lost campaigns for governor.


Alabama continues to rank as one of the nation’s most conservative and evangelical states, but there has been a gradual softening of public attitudes on same-sex marriage. A decade ago, more than 80% of Alabama voters passed the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. But by 2014, the number of Alabamans who opposed allowing LGBT couples to marry legally had dropped to 59%, according to an American Values Atlas survey.

Jarvie is a special correspondent