Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore — ousted from office more than a decade ago over a Ten Commandments display — now faces possible removal from the bench over his effort to block gay marriage from coming to that state after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission on Friday filed ethics charges against Moore, saying that the state chief justice abused the power of his office and displayed disrespect for the judiciary. Moore, 69, has been automatically suspended from the bench until there is a resolution.
The charges stem from a Jan. 6 administrative order Moore sent to probate judges telling them an Alabama court order and law banning same-sex marriages remained in full force and effect even though the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges effectively legalized gay marriage six months prior.
"By issuing his unilateral order of January 6, 2016, Chief Justice Moore flagrantly disregarded a fundamental constitutional right guaranteed in all states as declared by the United States Court in Obergefell," the Judicial Inquiry Commission wrote in the charges.
The chief justice's order to probate judges also came even though a federal judge had enjoined probate judges from enforcing Alabama's same-sex marriage ban, the commission wrote.
The Court of the Judiciary will decide whether Moore is guilty of violating judicial ethics. If found guilty, he could face removal from office.
Moore issued a statement Friday night saying he doesn't believe the commission has authority over administrative orders and state court injunction. Moore, as he did in a press conference last week about the complaints, referenced a recent protest outside his office by gay and transgender people.
"The JIC has chosen to listen to people like Ambrosia Starling, a professed transvestite, and other gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals, as well as organizations which support their agenda. We intend to fight this agenda vigorously and expect to prevail," Moore said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civils rights legal advocacy group, filed the complaint against Moore that led to Friday's charges.
"Moore has disgraced his office for far too long," SPLC President Richard Cohen said. "He's such a religious zealot, such an egomaniac that he thinks he doesn't have to follow federal court rulings he disagrees with. For the good of the state, he should be kicked out of office."
Moore previously served as Alabama's chief justice. The Court of Judiciary removed him from office after 2003 after he refused to comply with a federal court order to remove a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument that he installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building.
Moore was re-elected in 2012.The fiery Republican chief justice has been an outspoken critic of same-sex marriage both on and off the bench. During a 2012 campaign stop he said gay marriage would be the "ultimate destruction of our country because it destroys the very foundation upon which this nation is based." He sent a Jan. 27, 2015, letter to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley asking him to stand up to "judicial tyranny" after a federal judge ruled Alabama's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.
The chief justice held a press conference last week in Montgomery with attorney Mat Staver, who represented Kentucky clerk Kim Davis after she refused to issue marriage licenses. Moore and Staver criticized the Southern Poverty Law Center complaint as politically motivated.
Moore said he did not tell probate judges to defy a court order but was telling them that the Alabama Supreme Court order to refuse same-sex marriages had not been lifted.
"There is nothing in writing that you will find that I told anybody to disobey a federal court order. That's not what I said," Moore said last week. Asked last week if judges should be issuing licenses to gay couples, Moore said it remained for "probate judge to decide."
Despite Moore's January order, most Alabama counties are issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. However, a few Alabama counties have shut down marriage license operations and are not issuing them to anyone, in order to avoid giving licenses to gay couples.