ROY S. MOORE, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has lost his job—again. This is cause for celebration. It means that we may finally be rid of the fundamentalist fanatic some like to call the Torquemada of Montgomery.
I’ve been following Moore’s antics for a long time. It all started in 1996, when Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union joined forces to sue an Alabama public school district that was engaging in a number of practices promoting Christianity.
A federal court ruled in our favor on Oct. 29, 1997, and ordered an end to the practices. A few days later, we were shocked when Moore, then a local judge in Etowah County, issued a strange order attempting to bar enforcement of U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent’s ruling.
Our case had been heard in a federal court, meaning Moore had no jurisdiction over the matter. Furthermore, he obviously lacked the power to overrule a federal court.
We soon learned that Moore didn’t care because he had created his own version of the law, and it was that mutant strain he was attempting to enforce. It wouldn’t be the last time Americans United heard from this extreme jurist.
At the time he issued his brazen ruling in the school prayer case, Moore was already on Americans United’s radar screen. He had erected a hand-carved Ten Commandments display in his courtroom and was opening sessions with prayers. We had received several complaints about these actions.
Moore’s antics brought about an inevitable lawsuit, which in turn put him in the media spotlight. He used the fame to make himself a statewide, and then national, figure. Moore also used his status as a fundamentalist folk hero as a springboard to higher office, winning election as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in November of 2000.
Once on the bench, Moore wasted no time launching a new Ten Commandments crusade. He arranged for a two-ton granite monument of the Decalogue to be brought into the lobby of the Judicial Building in Montgomery in the middle of the night. The Ten Commandments, Moore insisted, were the source of all law, thus it was appropriate to display them at the court.
Americans United, the ACLU, and the Southern Poverty Law Center sued on behalf of several Alabama residents. Moore lost in two federal courts—but he refused to remove the monument. Openly defying a federal court turned out to be a bad idea. In 2003, Moore was brought before a judicial oversight body called the Court of the Judiciary and removed from the state supreme court.
Amazingly, the citizens of Alabama voted Moore back into office in 2012. He soon launched a new Christian crusade, this one over marriage equality. When a federal court in 2014 struck down an Alabama law barring marriage between same-sex couples, Moore advised the governor to ignore the ruling. (To his credit, Gov. Robert Bentley didn’t take up Moore’s suggestion.)
A year later the US Supreme Court struck down all state laws and constitutional amendments barring marriage between same-sex couples. The decision in Obergefell v. Hodges had the effect of making marriage equality the law of the land.
Moore remained defiant. In Alabama, local officials known as probate judges are responsible for issuing marriage licenses. Six months after the ruling in Obergefell, Moore issued an “administrative order” insisting that marriage between same-sex couples was still illegal in Alabama and advising the probate judges not to issue licenses to such couples.
Like his old school prayer order from 1997, this one came out of nowhere. The case dealing with marriage equality in Alabama was heard by a federal court. The Alabama Supreme Court had not been asked to weigh in on the matter. Moore was clearly trying to sow confusion, and it worked. Unsure of how to proceed, some probate judges in Alabama stopped issuing marriage licenses entirely.
A federal court soon issued an injunction making it clear that Alabama could not enforce its ban on marriage for same-sex couples, but the damage was done. Thanks to Moore, the state was in another uproar.
A number of ethics complaints were filed against Moore, and he was once again brought before the Court of the Judiciary. That body found him guilty on six counts in late September and suspended him from the Alabama high court for the rest of his term.
In a fifty-page ruling, the Court of the Judiciary noted that Moore was in clear defiance of a US Supreme Court ruling. His action, the oversight body noted, represented “a failure to follow clear law and a failure to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.”
The Court of the Judiciary found that Moore interpreted the law in a manner that was “incomplete, misleading and manipulative.” It also said Moore “substituted his judgment for the judgment of the entire Alabama Supreme Court on a substantive legal issue.”
Although he was technically not booted off the Alabama Supreme Court this time, the Court of the Judiciary’s ruling has that effect. Under Alabama law, no one older than seventy may run for or be appointed to a court in the state. Moore will turn seventy in February.
Moore’s attorney, Mat Staver of a religious right legal group called Liberty Counsel, huffed and puffed about an appeal. When Moore tried that in 2003, a special panel of judges was convened to sit as the Alabama Supreme Court. That panel affirmed Moore’s removal from the court. Given Moore’s blatant actions, there’s no reason to think he’ll get a better outcome this time.
Have we finally seen the last of Roy S. Moore? There’s no age requirement for governor, so he could always run for that office. But he tried that in 2006 and 2010 and both times failed to win the Republican primary.
Moore may end up going back to what he does best: peddling his tale of woe to the religious right. After his removal from the court the first time, he worked the conservative Christian rubber-chicken circuit and, with his wife, formed a group called the Foundation for Moral Law.
He also penned some really bad poetry. Here’s a sample from one called “America the Beautiful”:
Your children wander aimlessly poisoned by cocaine
Choosing to indulge their lusts, when God has said abstain.
From sea to shining sea this Nation has turned away,
From the teaching of God’s Law, and a need to always pray.
I doubt making a living as a poet is in the cards for Moore. I’m not sure what he’ll end up doing to fill his days, but one thing’s for sure: Moore won’t be shaping the law in Alabama. For that, citizens of that state, as well as the rest of the nation, can only be grateful.