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Alabama Judge Faces Ethics Complaint for Gay Marriage Letter

A civil rights group on Wednesday filed a judicial ethics complaint against Alabama’s controversial Supreme Court Chief Justice, Roy Moore, saying his comments urging judges to disregard a recent ruling striking down the state’s gay marriage ban were “encouraging lawlessness.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center said it had lodged the complaint with the state's Judicial Inquiry Commission, which could recommend that Moore face ethics charges in the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.

Moore’s remarks, which included “we must act to oppose such tyranny” being imposed by “judicial fiat,” were made in a letter to Gov. Roy Bentley dated Tuesday and on state Supreme Court letterhead.

“Moore is once again wrapping himself in the Bible and thumbing his nose at the federal courts and federal law,” the center’s president, Richard Cohen, said in a statement. “As a private citizen, Moore is entitled to his views. But as the chief justice of Alabama, he has a responsibility to recognize the supremacy of federal law and to conform his conduct to the canons of judicial ethics.”

Moore’s letter was in response to the decision on Friday by U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade to throw out Alabama's same-sex marriage ban. She ordered a 14-day stay on her ruling on Sunday to allow the attorney general time to appeal, though she said the state wasn't likely to succeed.

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

The SPLC alleged that Moore had committed numerous ethics violations with the letter, including publicly commenting on a pending federal case. In the statement, the center said he was “encouraging lawlessness by attempting to assemble a virtual army of state officials and judges to oppose the federal judiciary and its ‘tyranny’ – the opposite of what is expected from the state’s chief judge.”

“We have gone down this road before during the civil rights movement,” Cohen said. “The chief justice is trotting out the same tired – and disproven – states’ rights arguments that were used to disenfranchise African Americans.”

The SPLC and Moore have legally tussled before: The center in 2003 was successful in its bid to remove a plaque bearing the Ten Commandments that Moore, then chief justice, had installed at the state judicial building some two years before. Moore had refused to take down the monument, which led to his removal from office, the SPLC said.

In 2012, Moore was re-elected chief justice of the state supreme court. Late Wednesday, Moore said it was his "duty to advise the lower courts when their jurisdiction is threatened by an unlawful mandate by a federal district court."

"Our law and Alabama Supreme Court precedent are clear that lower federal and appeals court decisions carry only persuasive authority but are not binding on state judges also sworn to the United States Constitution, and who have equal authority to rule on such matters," he said in a statement. “I will continue to do my duty.”

Excluding Alabama, 36 states, plus the District of Columbia, allow gay men and lesbians to wed. The Supreme Court said in mid-January that it would hear a challenge from four states to same-sex marriage bans, with many experts predicting that the nation's highest court will finally settle the gay marriage question nationwide.

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