Trials And Tribulations: Controversial Ala. Judge Says He Should Stay On The Bench

Alabama’s infamous anti-gay, “Ten Commandments” judge seems to think ethics complaints against him are politically motivated and should be dropped.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has been in hot water thanks to his various attempts to undercut the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision in Obergefell v. Hodges last year.

According to, a local news site, Moore claimed again on Wednesday that the U.S. Supreme Court’s verdict in Obergefell did not alter an Alabama state law banning same-sex marriage and that the complaints therefore had no legal basis.

“This is not about religion,” he said. “This is about my marriage and my legal orders.”

The complaints were filed against Moore after he ordered the state’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in open defiance of the high court. He has long maintained the Civil War-era argument that state laws can supersede some U.S. court decisions.

But this week, he bafflingly asserted that he never instructed the state’s probate judges to disobey a lower district court or the Supreme Court because his actions were in line with state law – even though that state law was invalidated. He also complained that his legal orders have been “mischaracterized and misstated” by political enemies. Those “enemies” include local transgender activist Ambrosia Starling, whom he singled out for special invective: He called her a “transvestite” with a mental illness.
“We’re in a serious time in our country,” Moore opined. “We are at a time in our country when people who just a few years ago would have been prescribed a mental illness, a mental disorder.”

Starling had filed an ethics complaint against the chief justice and helped other local activists to do to the same. They aren’t alone: Moore and his attorney, Mat Staver of the anti-gay Liberty Counsel (which also represents embattled Kentucky clerk Kim Davis), said yesterday the justice faces about 30 ethics complaints. Other complaints have been filed by the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which is based in Alabama.

If these groups and activists succeed, Moore will be removed from the bench — for a second time. The Alabama Court of the Judiciary removed him from his role as chief justice in 2003 after a lengthy battle over his decision to display a five-ton granite carving of the Ten Commandments at his courthouse. Moore was ordered by a federal court to remove the monument. He refused, so he was removed from his position. But he was not disbarred at the time so he remained eligible to run for chief justice in the future, which he did successfully in 2012.

The ghost of his previous removal was not absent from Wednesday’s press conference. Staver claimed bizarrely that the Judiciary Inquiry Commission, which sends ethics complaints to be heard by the Court of the Judiciary, has no jurisdiction over Moore.

Those arguments didn’t impress the SPLC. Its president, Richard Cohen, called the justice the “ayatollah of Alabama” in a statement.

“All he’s doing, of course, is demonstrating once again why he’s unfit to be the chief justice of Alabama,” Cohen told the Associated Press.

It’s not clear if Moore faces imminent removal from the bench; the Court of the Judiciary’s proceedings are secret until they’re concluded. But his decision to call a press conference, inspired by no discernible trigger, does imply he’s concerned about his future as an Alabama judge.

And he should be. No matter what he and Staver tell reporters, there’s simply no reasonable legal basis to claim that Alabama state law should stand unchanged in total contradiction to a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. Moore’s theocratic priorities are suited to a career in the pulpit, not in the courthouse.