Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Calls for ‘Confrontation’ With Federal Courts Over Marriage Equality

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore's public statements and actions have prompted an ethics complaint against him.

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore's public statements and actions have prompted an ethics complaint against him. Shutterstock

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Judge Roy Moore has threatened a “confrontation” with federal courts over marriage equality in a series of escalating actions advocates say could once again get him removed from the Alabama bench.

Moore, in a letter dated January 27 and on Supreme Court of Alabama letterhead, informed Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley that a recent federal court order striking down Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriages is invalid because the definition of marriage is biblical and therefore beyond the reach of the United States Constitution.

“As of this date, 44 federal courts have imposed by judicial fiat same-sex marriages in 21 states of the Union, overturning the express will of the people in those states,” Moore’s letter states. “If we are to preserve that ‘reverent morality which is the source of all beneficent progress in social and political improvement,’ then we must act to oppose such tyranny!”

The order striking down Alabama’s Sanctity of Marriage Amendment is on hold until February 9.

In his letter, Moore warns Alabama judges that if they comply with the federal court order once it is lifted, they will be in violation of Alabama law and that as chief judge, he will continue to enforce the Alabama restrictions, regardless of any federal court order.

“I am dismayed by those judges in our state who have stated they will recognize and unilaterally enforce a federal court decision which does not bind them. I would advise them that the issuance of such licenses would be in defiance of the laws and Constitution of Alabama,” Moore wrote. “As Chief Judge of the Alabama Supreme Court I will continue to recognize the Alabama Constitution and the will of the people overwhelmingly expressed in the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment.”

Moore’s letter closes by asking Bentley to join him in his judicial insurrection.

“I ask you to continue to uphold and support the Alabama Constitution with respect to marriage, both for the welfare and this state and for our posterity,” he wrote. “Be advised that I stand with you to stop judicial tyranny and any unlawful opinions issued without constitutional authority.”

Moore’s comments and conduct prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center to file a judicial ethics complaint against the chief justice.

The complaint, filed with the Judicial Inquiry Commission of Alabama, could result in formal ethics charges before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. That court removed Moore from the office of chief justice 12 years ago after Moore refused to comply with a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building.

“Moore is once again wrapping himself in the Bible and thumbing his nose at the federal courts and federal law,” Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen said in a statement. “We have gone down this road before during the civil rights movement. The chief justice is trotting out the same tired—and disproven—states’ rights arguments that were used to disenfranchise African Americans.”

Marriage equality is not the only issue on which Chief Justice Moore has formally expressed a “states’ rights” view of nullifying federal law. In April 2014 court opinion, Moore made the case for prosecuting pregnant people and called on the Alabama courts to ignore Roe v. Wade and follow “God’s law” instead.

“From local to international, all law flows from the divine source: it is the law of God,” Moore wrote in a concurring opinion that upheld the criminal conviction under the state’s chemical endangerment statute of an Alabama woman who gave birth to a healthy baby who later tested positive for cocaine. “The law of nature and of nature’s God binds all nations, states, and all government officials—from Great Britain to Germany to Alabama—regardless of positive laws or orders to the contrary.”

In the latest ethics complaint against Moore, the Southern Poverty Law Center alleges that Moore’s comments and actions violate at least three canons of judicial ethics and asks for Moore face a formal ethics inquiry.