Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore faces de facto removal after suspension

by Joni B. Hannigan |

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Christian Examiner) — Today the Court of the Judiciary (COJ) issued a decision on the charges against 69-year-old Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

The Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) requested that he be removed from the bench. Under the COJ rules, removal requires a unanimous 9-0 vote by the members of the COJ, which is made up of judges, a lawyer and laypeople.

Absent a 9-0 unanimous vote, the COJ cannot remove a judge from the bench, according to Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, an international, non-profit policy organization advancing religious freedom.

Moore was suspended for ordering the state's probate judges to defy federal court orders on same-sex marriage.

Staver said in a news release he believes the COJ in violation of the law suspended without pay Chief Justice Moore for the remainder of his term, which runs through January 2019. When his term expires, he will be ineligible to run for election as judge again because of his age. So the suspension until the end of his term is a de facto removal from the bench, Staver asserted.

"To suspend Chief Justice Moore for the rest of his term is the same as removal. The COJ lacked the unanimous votes to remove the Chief, so the majority instead chose to ignore the law and the rules," said Staver.

The COJ decision states: "A majority of this court also agrees with the JIC that the only appropriate sanction for Chief Justice Moore is removal from office. Removal of a judge from office, however, requires 'the concurrence of all members sitting.' Rule 16, R.P. Ala. Ct. Jud."

It is clear there was not a unanimous concurrence to remove the Chief from office, Staver said, so the COJ suspended him for the remainder of his term. In other words, the COJ did what the rules say they cannot do. There is no meaningful difference between suspension for the remaining of the term and removal from office.

"In August, when both sides asked for summary judgement, I was shocked that the COJ chose not to rule. I surmised then that the COJ lacked a unanimous vote to remove the Chief and so the can was kicked down the road to keep the Chief off the bench for two more months," Staver said. "The evidence and the arguments presented Wednesday showed that Chief Justice Moore should be reinstated. He did nothing wrong. The JIC presented no live testimony or affidavits. The charges should be dismissed. Today's decision by the COJ to suspend the Chief for the rest of his term throws the rule of law out the window. This system must be changed."

Staver continued: "The rule of law should trump political agendas. Sadly, today that is not the case. What this decision tells us today is that Montgomery has a long way to go to weed out abuse of political power and restore the rule of law."

The order proffered did not change "the status quo," according to Staver, but is a "status report," of the current case.

"To suspend Chief Justice Moore for the duration of his term is a miscarriage of justice and we will appeal this case to the Alabama Supreme Court," Staver said. "This case is far from over."

Liberty Counsel is filing an appeal of the decision with the Alabama Supreme Court. A new panel of judges will need to convene to hear the case and all the sitting Justices should be recused, Staver said in the release.

(With reporting by Liberty Counsel.)