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Ousted Alabama justice seeks return to office

Roy Moore,  ousted as Alabama’s chief justice for not removing a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building, argued in legal briefs that his dismissal sets a “dangerous precedent.”
Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore listens to a reporter's question Thursday during a news conference in Montgomery, Ala.Dave Martin / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Roy Moore, who was ousted as Alabama’s chief justice for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building, asked the state Supreme Court on Thursday to return him to office.

Moore argued in legal briefs that his expulsion sets a “dangerous precedent” and requires judges to deny their oath of office and religious faith.

The former chief justice was appealing the Nov. 13 decision of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary to oust him for refusing a federal court order to move the 5,300-pound monument from the Alabama Judicial Building’s rotunda.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson found the monument to be an unconstitutional promotion of religion by government. Moore maintains that the commandments are the moral foundation of American law.

“I’ve been removed from public office — the highest judicial office in this state — by an unelected, politically appointed body, and they did not question why I did not obey an unlawful order of the federal court,” Moore said at a news conference. “Basically, I was given the choice to fail to acknowledge God or keep my job.”

Panel of seven to weigh appeal
The Court of the Judiciary consists of judges, lawyers and others appointed variously by judges, legal leaders and the governor and lieutenant governor.

Moore’s appeal will be decided by seven retired judges chosen at random to form a stand-in Supreme Court after the elected justices disqualified themselves from hearing the former chief justice’s case.

Attorney General Bill Pryor, who prosecuted Moore before the Court of the Judiciary, has 20 days to file a response to Moore’s brief.

Suzanne Webb, a spokesman for Pryor, said he needs to study the papers before making any comment.

Moore and his attorneys argue that the Court of the Judiciary made a mistake by not considering whether Thompson’s order to move the monument was legal.

'Dangerous precedent' alleged
“The Court of the Judiciary’s crucial failure to distinguish between lawful and unlawful orders sets a dangerous precedent for all judicial officials in that ... it requires obedience to all court orders including those that are illegal and unethical,” the brief argues.

Moore’s attorneys also filed a motion Thursday objecting to the way the replacement justices were chosen.

Moore, known as the “Ten Commandments judge,” designed the granite monument and moved it into the rotunda one night in July 2001. After a seven-day trial in 2002, Thompson ordered the monument removed.

Thompson’s order was upheld by a federal appeals court, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Moore’s appeal.

After Thompson missed Moore’s deadline to remove the monument, the Judicial Inquiry Commission suspended Moore from office and brought ethics charges against him before the Court of the Judiciary. The monument was moved into a storage room by order of the eight associate Supreme Court justices.

'Acknowledgment of God'
In the brief filed Thursday, Moore said moving the monument would have forced him to “forsake an acknowledgment of God.”

“Both the Alabama and the federal constitution prohibit Alabama from forcing public officers to choose between their job and their God,” the brief said.

At the news conference, Moore said he is still seeking a book deal and that his income for now comes solely from speaking fees.

Moore said he hopes the book will help people understand what is meant by “the rule of law” and “separation of church and state.”

“We are at a very critical point in our country to determine whether the federal government can tell us what to think. A lot of people seem to be missing it,” he said.