Judge Roy Moore, Down, but not out!

Judge Roy Moore, Down, but not out!
Sat Nov 15 15:57:15 2003

Political Play of the Week
Down, but not out: Ousted Alabama judge mulls future

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit
Friday, November 14, 2003 Posted: 4:33 PM EST (2133 GMT)

Moore Ousted Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore listens Thursday an an ethics panel kicks him off the bench.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Judge Roy Moore of Alabama has made the Ten Commandments a political career.

The move cost him his job, but it also endeared him to politically active conservatives, and his high-profile showdown with a state judicial ethics panel wins him the political Play of the Week.

Roy Moore is removed as Alabama's chief justice for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments statue.
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In 1995, Moore was sued by a civil liberties group for displaying a homemade plaque of the Ten Commandments in his circuit courtroom. He became "the Ten Commandments judge'' and got elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

Two years ago, Moore installed a granite monument to the Ten Commandments in the court rotunda. This August, a federal court ordered Moore to remove it. He refused saying, "I did not obey the edict of a federal judge who said we could not acknowledge God."

This week, Moore stood trial for judicial misconduct.

The court ruled on Thursday, kicking Moore off the bench and saying he had placed himself above the law.

"This court hereby orders that Roy S. Moore be removed from his position as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama," said Judge William Thompson, head of the state's ethics panel.

Moore's supporters see him as a martyr persecuted for his religious beliefs.

"It's very wrong for a public official to be excluded from his office because of his religious beliefs and the acknowledgment of God," Moore told CNN.

His critics had a different view.

"He simply decided that he would defy the law and when you're the chief justice of the state, that's not one of your options," Richard Cohen, a lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the groups that sued Moore over the monument.

The religious right usually takes up highly divisive causes, like abortion and gay rights. But how many Americans are offended by the Ten Commandments?

Seventy-six percent of Alabamans support putting the Ten Commandments on display on government property.

So do 77 percent of all Americans. Could Moore have political plans?

"He'll be back as a United States senator, or he's back as chief justice because he can run again. Or he'll be back as governor," said Terry Butts, an attorney for Moore.

Moore could challenge Gov. Bob Riley in the GOP primary in 2006.

Remember Riley? He sponsored a tax hike plan that Alabama voters soundly defeated in September.

"I will be making an announcement next week which could alter the course of this country," Moore declared on Thursday.

That's next week. This week, he gets the political Play of the Week.

Moore deliberately sought the showdown and invited media attention. He wanted his trial held in a sports arena with thousands of spectators witnessing his martyrdom.

No More Justice Moore

Sunday, November 16, 2003; Page B06

THERE HAS BEEN little ennobling in the saga of Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore -- until last week, when a unanimous judicial disciplinary court removed him from his job. Mr. Moore is a demagogue who has made a judicial career not in his performance in the courts but in his unconstitutional decoration of them. Most recently, he gained national attention when he installed a huge granite monument to the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court building and then defied a federal court order to remove the obvious violation of the First Amendment's separation of church and state.

Time was -- and it wasn't that long ago -- a state court official in the deep South who openly thumbed his nose at the federal Constitution could have expected sympathy from his colleagues. But fortunately times have changed, as the nine judges who took Mr. Moore's job away made clear. "Chief Justice Moore not only willfully and publicly defied the orders of a United States district court, but . . . he also gave the court no assurances that he would follow . . . any similar order in the future," they wrote. "Under these circumstances, there is no penalty short of removal from office that would resolve this issue."

Unfortunately, this unequivocal rebuke may close only a chapter of the Roy Moore story. For his latest escapades have made the now-former chief justice a celebrity. His supporters don't see him as the scofflaw that he is -- a man who feels free to ignore the constitutionally designated system by which law is interpreted in a democratic society. They see, rather, a man who stood up for God and morality in the face of secular culture. So even as Mr. Moore's own court declared his behavior unethical and outside his legal authority, his viability as a candidate for governor or other statewide office -- even his old job -- may be enhanced by his purported martyrdom.

Yet even if Mr. Moore proves the ultimate beneficiary of his own disgrace, the court's action was right and -- considering the political climate -- courageous. A large sector of the American electorate, after all, has yet to reconcile itself to the notion of a public square that does not elevate particular religious traditions over others or elevate religious belief over skepticism. Lamenting the separation of church and state is, however wrongheaded, the right of every individual. But civil disobedience is not the province of judges, who are not in any event supposed to serve as generals in the culture wars. When the federal courts say what the Constitution means, the duty of every state court judge in the nation is to obey. With Justice Moore's removal, the Alabama Supreme Court can once again embrace this basic tenet of the rule of law in America.

2003 The Washington Post Company

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