Good news from Alabama: disgraced Christian theocrat Roy Moore has been booted out of his judicial seat. The state Court of the Judiciary suspended Moore without pay for the rest of his term, removing him from office in all but name.
This is the final act of a drama that began last year, when Moore attempted to provoke a constitutional crisis by ordering state courts to ignore a federal court decision in favor of same-sex marriage. He called it an “unlawful opinion issued without constitutional authority”. Even after the Supreme Court settled the issue nationwide in Obergefell, Moore kept trying to nullify that ruling, claiming that Alabama’s state ban was still valid until the Alabama Supreme Court (i.e., his court) said otherwise.
Obviously, Moore’s attempt to hold back the tide of equality failed miserably. Marriage equality is the law of the land throughout the country, including Alabama – although a few pockets of defiance remain. As of June 2016, Coosa County is still illegally denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples, unbelievably claiming “technical difficulties” (!!). A handful of other counties are refusing to grant any marriage licenses to anyone. It’s likely more lawsuits will be needed to put an end to this heel-dragging, but even so, this is more of a mop-up operation.
Given Moore’s history of contempt for the Constitution, it’s not surprising that he was removed from the bench. As you probably know, this is the second time he’s been kicked out of office. The first was in 2003, when he installed a Ten Commandments monument in the rotunda of the state judicial building and defied a higher court’s order to remove it. Unfortunately, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is an elected position, and in 2012 Moore ran again for his old office and won. (This is a good example of why judges shouldn’t be elected. They’re supposed to answer to the law, not to public opinion.)
As the Court of the Judiciary noted, his defense in that case was the same as in this one. It’s a word salad that amounts to claiming he can defy a higher court as long as he doesn’t admit that that’s what he’s doing:
The COJ quoted from the court’s order from 2003 removing Moore from the bench for defying the federal court order to remove the 10 Commandments from the courts building. That 2003 order quoted Moore as saying then that: “I did what I did because I upheld my oath. And that’s what I did, so I have no apologies for it. I would do it again. I didn’t say I would defy the court order. I said I wouldn’t move the monument. And I didn’t move the monument, which you can take as you will.”
To issue a command against issuing same-sex marriage licenses would be a plain breach of the US constitution’s supremacy clause, which establishes the pre-eminence of federal courts. That left Moore’s lawyers in contortions to explain what exactly his administrative order was.
“It’s called an order, but – it can’t force anyone to do anything,” attorney Mat Staver said. (source)
In other words: It depends on what your definition of “is” is.
What I find most striking is that all these pious, right-wing Christians want to engage in civil disobedience without admitting it and without having to pay the penalty. Whatever happened to welcoming martyrdom? Why are they so ashamed to nail their convictions to the mast? Why not just say, “Yes, I broke the law because I believe God wanted me to, now do your worst”? That might not be a winning argument, but it would be an honest one.
Instead, for whatever reason, they feel a need to pretend that they’re not doing what they’re obviously doing. This is cowardly and dishonest. The marchers and demonstrators of the civil rights era didn’t try to hide their belief that the laws they were protesting deserved to be broken. They didn’t try to evade penalties using sophistic defenses. They volunteered to face punishment as a way of showing the world the injustice of the system they were going up against. Roy Moore and other wannabe theocrats don’t seem to have the same confidence in their own rightness.
Regardless, it’s likely that we’ve heard the last of Roy Moore. This time, he can’t run for his old seat again after his punishment is over, since he’ll be too old to be a judge under Alabama law. He might run for governor, but he’s tried that twice and was soundly defeated in the primary both times. The most likely outcome is that he’ll dwindle into a historical footnote, just as he deserves.
Religious conservatives like him see themselves in the classic role of the person standing in history’s way and yelling, “Stop!” The problem for them is that, sometimes, history is a steamroller. If you try to stand in its way, you just get run over. Roy Moore and those like him delude themselves into thinking they can halt social change forever, but they can’t. Whether they like it or not, their time is passing, and all the impotent rage and bluster in the world won’t stop them from fading away.