Until recently, opponents of controversial Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore were banking on one eventuality in the state's fight over marriage for same-sex couples: He would soon be off the bench for good because of judicial age limits.
Current state law bars citizens from being elected or appointed to judicial office after reaching age 70, and Moore will be 71 when his seat comes up for election again in 2018. However, a bill pre-filed in the State Senate would give the conservative Republican an opportunity for another term. The bill, which was proposed by Republican State Sen. Tom Whatley, would raise the maximum age limit for state judges to 75.
Moore rose to the national spotlight earlier this month after a federal judge in January struck down Alabama’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. The night before marriages were to become legal, Moore instructed state officials to essentially ignore the federal ruling and warned them of consequences if they went against state law and issued marriage licenses to gay couples. In his six-page letter to the local probate judges, Moore said the decision by Judge Ginny Granade was not binding on state courts. The advisory created confusion among the state’s 67 counties, with some issuing marriage licenses while others refused. Granade later clarified her ruling to say it did apply to local officials and that marriage licenses must be issued to same-sex couples.
In 2006, an overwhelmingly 81% of Alabama voters approved a state Constructional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. During the past eight years, cultural opinion has changed, but opposition to same-sex marriage remains strong in Alabama and across the Deep South. Just three years ago, a poll by Capital Survey Research Center, an army of the Alabama Education Association, found 71% of likely voters in Alabama opposed marriage for same-sex couples.
If the bill fails or Moore declines to seek another term on the State Supreme Court, there are still a slew of statewide offices at his disposal. Many state political analysts have speculated Moore, who has run two failed bids for governor in the past decade, would make another try for the office in 2018. Gov. Robert Bentley will be term-limited from seeking a third time and no heir apparent is waiting in the wings. In 2006, Moore challenged incumbent Gov. Bob Riley in a Republican primary; and in 2010, he placed fourth in the GOP primary during an open election.
State Sen. Whatley, the sponsor of the bill, did not return an email seeking comment.
The state legislature begins its next session on March 3.