Roy Moore’s suspension upheld by Alabama Supreme Court; decision next week on Senate race

The Alabama Supreme Court today upheld the decision that removed Roy Moore from his position as chief justice.

Moore in a press conference after the decision called the prosecution “politically” motivated and declared that he remains Chief Justice despite the suspension regarding an administrative order against the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“I have done my duty under the laws of this state to stand for the undeniable truth that God ordained marriage as the union of one and one woman,” Moore said during the press conference with reporters in the Old Supreme Court Chambers at the Alabama State Capitol. 

Moore can’t appeal the ruling to the federal courts because there are no federal issues. “This is it,” he said.

Moore also said he would reveal early next week for any plans he may have to run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who was appointed to replace Jeff Sessions who is now U.S. Attorney General.

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center which had filed the ethics complaint against Moore issued this statement after the court’s ruling today:

“Roy Moore’s violation of the Canons of Judicial Ethics was egregious. He got what he deserved. We’ll all be better off without the Ayatollah of Alabama as our chief justice,” Cohen stated.  

The Alabama Court of the Judiciary on Sept. 30, 2016 suspended Moore for the remainder of his term as chief justice after finding him guilty of six charges of violation of the canons of judicial ethics. The charges were brought and prosecuted by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission.

Moore’s term is to end in 2019, but because of his age, 69, he cannot run for the office again. Moore appealed the COJ’s ruling to a special supreme court  of retired judges appointed to hear the case. 

“We have previously determined that the charges were proven by clear and convincing evidence … we shall not disturb the sanction imposed,” today’s order stated.

Alabama Supreme Court order on Roy Moore by Jeremy W. Gray on Scribd

It is the second time Moore has been removed as Chief Justice. He was removed from the bench by the COJ in November 2003 for refusing a federal order to remove a Ten Commandment monument from the Alabama Supreme Court building. He was elected again to the chief justice job in 2012.

Moore’s current suspension was focused on a Jan. 6, 2016 administrative order he sent to the state’s probate judges regarding the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses.

Prosecutors with the JIC said Moore’s in his order urged probate judges to defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2015 that declared gay marriage legal nationwide and halt their issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Moore testified that it was only a “status report” to probate judges regarding Alabama litigation regarding same-sex marriage that remained active.

They also have argued that only the Alabama Supreme Court has jurisdiction over administrative orders issued by a Chief Justice and that such orders cannot serve as the basis for ethical charges.

“This opinion and the entire case against Chief Justice Moore is a tragedy,” Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, which represents Moore stated in a press release after the ruling.

“For the first time in the history of Alabama, a justice has been disciplined for issuing an Administrative Order. Under this system, no judge is safe to issue orders or render dissents. The system has to change, and politics should be removed from judicial decision making and disciplinary actions,” Staver stated. 

Moore also said today that a federal judge in Mobile had agreed with his legal basis for the administrative order. 

Both Moore and one his attorneys, Phillip L. Jauregui, called the Judicial Inquiry Commission’s decision to prosecute him, the COJ’s verdict and suspension, and the special supreme court’s decision “illegal.”

“This case was a politically motivated effort by the Judicial Inquiry Commission and certain homosexual and transgendered groups to remove me from office because of my steadfast opposition to same-sex marriage,” Moore read from a prepared statement.

Moore contrasted his career-ending suspension to that of a probate judge – Leon Archer – who got a six-month suspension from the COJ for transmitting sexually explicit photos of himself to a litigant before his court. 

In March cancelled, at Moore’s request, the planned April 26 oral arguments in the case. Instead, the court will consider Moore’s appeal based on written arguments already presented by the Judicial Inquiry Commission and Moore’s attorneys at Liberty Counsel.

Moore had argued that setting oral argument nearly three months in the future has imposed a “substantial financial hardship” on Moore because he has had no income or benefits since his suspension.

Moore’s attorneys with the group Liberty Counsel have said that the “suspension” imposed against Moore is the longest suspension in the history of the Court of the Judiciary. The COJ illegally removed him de facto from the bench “because political opponents disagreed with his legally accurate analysis,” his attorneys have said.

Moore has questioned the COJ’s suspension and argues that court violated its own rules. The COJ couldn’t get the nine votes necessary to outright remove him from the bench, but did get the votes needed to suspend him from the bench for the rest of his term.

Jauregui and Moore also questioned the timing of today’s ruling to affirm Moore’s ouster. The press conference was originally going to be about the delay by the special court and only an hour or so before it happened, the court ruled, they said.

Future in politics

Moore was among about a dozen candidates interviewed in December by Gov. Robert Bentley as possible replacements for U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, who later was appointed U.S. Attorney General. “I’d be honored to accept an appointment to the U.S. Senate if it was offered,” Moore said at the time.

Bentley ended up appointing former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to the senate seat.

Alabama’s new governor, Kay Ivey, on Tuesday moved the election for the Senate seat up to Dec. 12 of this year.  The election had previously been scheduled to coincide with the 2018 election cycle. But some, particularly Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler who filed a lawsuit over the issue, argued that the law required a special election be held.

Moore also has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Alabama governor in 2018.

Moore has run for governor twice before – losing in the Republican primaries in 2006 and 2010.

Challenges to COJ, JIC process

Moore has challenged the legality of Alabama’s law setting up the COJ and JIC, particularly the provision that a judge is automatically suspended, with pay, while the ethics charges are pending before the COJ. A federal judge dismissed Moore’s lawsuit challenging the law last year.

The Alabama GOP also has pushed to make changes with the JIC.

Meanwhile, a few legislators have been trying to change the law that would require legislators have a say in the process. One Senate bill proposes an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to require legislative approval of affirmations by the Supreme Court of decisions by the Court of the Judiciary removing a judge from office. Another bill, in the Senate, proposes doing away with the automatic suspension rule.

Updated at 3:15 p.m. April 19, 2017 with comments from Liberty Counsel and SPLC

Article source: Supreme Court

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