For those familiar with Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, he’s probably best known as the “Ten Commandments judge.” But looking back over Moore’s career, the way in which he became a right-wing cause celebre matters.
Back in the 1990s, Moore was just a local judge in Alabama, who insisted on promoting Christianity in his public courtroom. When First Amendment proponents challenged his practice of using his bench to advance his religion, Moore said he had the legal right to ignore federal court rulings.
This quickly made him a star in far-right circles, and he parlayed his notoriety into becoming the chief justice of state Supreme Court. In 2003, however, Moore was ultimately kicked off the bench for – you guessed it – ignoring federal court rulings he didn’t like and insisting that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to Alabama’s state government. (Voters didn’t care, and in 2012, following a couple of failed campaigns, Moore was re-elected as chief justice.)
I’m noting this context because it matters in light of Moore’s newly created controversy:
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has released a letter to Gov. Robert Bentley saying that he intends to continue to recognize the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and urging the governor to do so. […]Moore said the ruling by U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. “Ginny” Granade “raised serious, legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction” over the Alabama amendment.
Moore’s letter, which is available in its entirety here (pdf), may be predictable, but it’s also wildly wrong and a little dangerous. The Republican judge’s argument is that a federal court may consider Alabama’s ban on marriage equality unconstitutional, but Alabama doesn’t have to care.
Moore not only intends to ignore the ruling, he desperately wants Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) to believe states are not bound by federal court rulings.
The chief justice’s argument has already led the Southern Poverty Law Center to file a judicial ethics complaint against Moore – the group said the judge is “encouraging lawlessness” – while my old pals at Americans United for Separation of Church and State contacted the governor to encourage him not to take Moore’s bad advice.
“As usual, Roy Moore doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “His interpretation of the U.S. Constitution is based on wishful thinking; it has no basis in reality.”In his letter to Bentley, Moore insisted that the state of Alabama is free to ignore rulings by federal courts. This assertion, Americans United said in a letter to Bentley sent today, is not just obviously incorrect but also offensive.“Justice Moore’s Tenth-Amendment-nullification arguments are relics straight from the Civil War, embraced only by inhabitants of the deranged right-wing fever-swamps in which the Justice has mired himself,” AU’s letter states. “Even a first-year law student knows that the requirements of the U.S. Constitution trump state law, and you would do well to disregard the Chief Justice’s ramblings.”
For his part, Bentley, Alabama’s Republican governor, has not yet said whether he intends to follow Moore’s lead on this. Late last week, a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, but at least for now, that ruling is on hold.