Alabama Supreme Court panel upholds Chief Justice Roy Moore’s suspension for same-sex marriage complaint


Roy Moore

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The special panel assembled by the Alabama Supreme Court to hear Chief Justice Roy Moore's challenge to his suspension from office has ruled against him.

The Judicial Inquiry Commission presented a case to the Court of the Judiciary that Moore should be suspended for sending an advisory order telling probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, six months after the Supreme Court of the United States legalized same-sex marriage in its Obergefell decision.

The Court of the Judiciary ruled against Moore and suspended him from the bench through the end of his term, effectively ending his tenure as Chief Justice.

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Moore called the decision "illegal" and the product of a corrupt political system during a brief press conference Wednesday afternoon. Moore and his attorneys said they'd scheduled the press conference to complain about the court's delays in releasing its opinion and said they were stunned the opinion was issued today.

Moore appealed the decision to the state supreme court, which put together a special panel of judges selected solely to hear the case. On Wednesday, the court handed down an opinion that upheld both the Court of the Judiciary's findings and its punishment.

The panel was unpersuaded by Moore’s argument that he wasn't telling probate judges to defy the federal courts. Moore had argued he was just updating the judges on an ongoing case in Alabama regarding same-sex marriage licenses.

“Despite Chief Justice Moore's including qualifying language in his administrative order, there is no question that he concluded that Obergefell had no effect and that he correspondingly ordered and directed that the 'probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act,'" the panel wrote.

Moore had challenged both the findings that he violated the state’s ethics rules for judges and the length of his suspension. He argued that under Alabama law, the Court of the Judiciary could only remove a judge from office with a unanimous vote, which it didn’t have. But, because his suspension was for the remainder of his term and he’s age-barred from running for the Supreme Court again, the suspension is effectively an improper removal.

But the special panel disagreed in its opinion, “The Court of the Judiciary was also presumably aware that such a suspension would preclude Chief Justice Moore from reassuming his duties at any point before the expiration of his term but unanimously agreed that such a suspension was warranted.”

The panel also noted that while Moore complained about the length of the suspension, he didn’t provide any examples of cases that were similar to his case.

“Chief Justice Moore also argues his suspension (2 years, 3 months, and 14 days) is four times longer than any suspension imposed on any other judge since the revision of Rule 16 in 2001,” the panel wrote. “However, Chief Justice Moore fails to offer the Court examples of comparable offenses. Chief Justice Moore does not argue that other similarly situated judges have received lesser suspensions.

“Because we have previously determined that the charges were proven by clear and convincing evidence and there is no indication that the sanction imposed was plainly and palpably wrong, manifestly unjust, or without supporting evidence, we shall not disturb the sanction imposed.”

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