September 30, 2016 at 2:49 PM
One of the nation's most controversial judges has now had the dubious honor of effectively losing his job over church-state separation questions not once but twice.
On Friday, the state's court within a court suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, citing "clear and convincing" evidence that Moore tried to block same-sex marriage in the state after the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing it. The same court kicked him off the bench in 2003 for refusing to take down a monument to the Ten Commandments in the courthouse.
This time around, the Judicial Inquiry Commission couldn't unanimously decide whether to kick Moore off the bench, so he'll stay on, but he'll be unable to do anything. He'll be suspended without pay for the rest of his term — through 2019 — and unable to make legal decisions during that time.
For decades, Moore has been one of the most outspoken figures in the culture wars. His intransigent commitment to conservative religious principles in public government has made him a national name on the conservative right.
But as times have changed, so has public response to Moore's social conservatism.
Here's a rundown of the flash points in the legal career of one of Alabama's most controversial judges:
The Ten Commandments: When Moore was a circuit judge in the 1990s, he hung up a wooden plaque of the Ten Commandments behind his bench so all who came before him could read it. He also started many of his court proceedings with a prayer. At the time, he acknowledged that this might be controversial but said he was trying to "establish the moral foundation of our law."
The American Civil Liberties Union didn't see it that way. They sued in 1995, right after Moore won reelection to his job in a landslide. (A poll showed some 80 percent of Alabamians approved of Moore and his Christian-minded principles in the courtroom). The case ended up in the courtroom of one of Moore's circuit court colleagues, who split the difference, ruling the prayers unconstitutional but allowing Moore to keep his Ten Commandments plaque up.
Through it all, Moore got national attention, even appearing on the NBC's "Today" show. In the end, he got to keep his Ten Commandments — but they would cause him trouble later.
That time he said "homosexual behavior is … an act so heinous it defies one's ability to describe it": In 2001, Moore won election to the top judicial job in Alabama, chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Soon after, he made headlines for yet another religious battle.
His court ruled in favor of a lesbian requesting custody of her son from her ex-husband. But Moore dissented, writing: "Homosexual behavior is a ground for divorce, an act of sexual misconduct punishable as a crime in Alabama, a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one's ability to describe it."
The Ten Commandments (again): 2003; another year, another controversy for Moore, who refused orders from a federal judge to remove a 5,000-pound granite monument to the Ten Commandments he had commissioned for the courthouse.
Once again, the ACLU sued. And this time, there would be very different consequences for Moore. After a long and public trial — the Rev. Jerry Falwell attended rallies in support of him — the state's official judicial watchdog unanimously decided to remove him from his job.
A dabble in politics: After the bench, Moore tried to run for governor (twice) and lost in the primary (twice). After that didn't work out, Moore in 2011 thought about running for president. Instead, he decided to run for his old job as Alabama's chief justice.
It was a controversial decision that split many of the state's top Republicans, many of whom decided instead to support Moore's Democratic opponent — an incredibly rare thing in deep red Alabama.
Despite that, Moore won with 53 percent of the vote. In 2013, a decade after he was removed, he was back on the bench.
Defying the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling: Moore started 2016 with an ethics complaint from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which alleged he had told Alabama's probate judges — the ones who hand out marriage licenses — to essentially ignore the Supreme Court's June 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.
"Effective immediately, no probate judge of the State of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama probate judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent" with the Alabama Constitution, Moore wrote in a mandate. (In 2006, Alabama voters had overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the Alabama Constitution making same-sex marriage illegal.)
Moore has since said he was trying to make sure his probate judges complied with Alabama's law until his own state Supreme Court could rule on gay marriage.
But the state's judicial watchdog didn't see that as a reasonable explanation, given that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling trumps any state court. They charged him with six offenses, including unwillingness to follow the law, abusing his authority, substituting his own judgment for the judgment of the entire Alabama Supreme Court and placing his impartiality in question.
On Friday, they decided that Moore's impartiality was indeed in question and essentially ended the latest chapter of his tumultuous legal career.