By Albert Lin
The Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is under fire for taking the position that a federal judge’s ruling striking down Alabama’s same-gender marriage ban is irrelevant.
Judge Ginny Granade of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama ruled that the Alabama Marriage Protection Act and an amendment that made it part of the state’s constitution were both unconstitutional.
She later clarified that her order applies to all government officials statewide and not just to the defendant in the case, the state attorney general’s office.
But Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is unconvinced. In a letter to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, Moore wrote: “I ask you to continue to uphold and support the Alabama Constitution with respect to marriage, both for the welfare of this state and for our posterity. Be advised that I stand with you to stop judicial tyranny and any unlawful opinions issued without constitutional authority.”
The letter also advised probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples, saying that to do so would be in violation of state law.
In an interview with AL.com. Moore said that state courts are not required to follow decisions by federal district or appeals courts, although he called those decisions “highly persuasive.” According to Moore, only a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court would be binding in Alabama.
“My duty as Chief Justice and administrative head of the court system is to enlighten those courts under my authority as to what the law is in this matter,” Moore said. “And the law is clearly that federal district courts and appellate courts are only persuasive authority to the courts of this state because the judges of state courts are equally competent to interpret federal law.”
Moore says that other states’ decisions to abide by federal rulings on same-gender marriage were simply a matter of giving in to public pressure. “Many states have just caved to itthey absolutely have,” he said. “When a federal district judge rules, that’s it. But they didn’t have to. And I’m saying we don’t have to. And it’s in accordance with the law. It’s not defiance.”
In response, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed an ethics complaint against Moore, accusing him of:
improper public comment on pending and impending proceedings;
lack of faithfulness to the law and failure of professional competence;
and disrespect for the dignity of the judiciary and undermining public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.
The SPLC has a history with Moore: In 2002 it was part of a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of a Ten Commandments monument that Moore placed in the state judicial building. When Moore refused to remove it, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary removed him from officebut he was elected Chief Justice again in 2012.
“For the sake of all Alabamians who believe in the rule of law, we hope that the result is the same this time,” SPLC President Richard Cohen said. “The people of Alabama elected Moore to be a judge, not to be their priest.”
Thirty-six states now recognize same-gender marriage, and the Supreme Court announced it would rule on the issue this year. Asked how he would respond to a SCOTUS ruling striking down Alabama’s ban, Moore said, “I’ll have to make that decision when it comes.”