WASHINGTON — Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has been suspended from office without pay from the remainder of his term, the fallout from his action of telling probate judges in the state that they were not bound by federal court rulings guaranteeing equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.
A nine-member body responsible for hearing judicial ethics complaints in Alabama unanimously found Moore guilty of all of the ethics charges brought against him, finding that he violated multiple judicial ethics canons by his actions.
The suspension, the Court of the Judiciary ordered, is effective immediately.
The move, lawyers on both sides of the matter say, is effectively the same as removal from office — the second time Moore has had his judicial authority taken away from him. Moore previously was removed from office in 2003 when he refused to follow a federal court's order that he remove a display of the Ten Commandments from the courtroom.
Additionally, under state rules, Moore is not be eligible to run for another term as chief justice due to his age — although there is speculation that Moore could try, again, to run for governor of the state.
"There is no meaningful difference between suspension for the remaining of the term and removal from office," Mat Staver, Moore's lawyer from Liberty Counsel, said in a statement.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed an ethics complaint against Moore based on his handling of marriage issues, concurred with Staver's assessment.
"As a practical matter, there is no difference" between removal and suspension for the remainder of his term, SPLC president Richard Cohen said.
Moore, throughout the judicial fights over same-sex couples' marriage rights, had used his role as the administrative head of the state courts to direct probate judges to follow Alabama's constitutional ban on same-sex couples' marriages. Even after the 2015 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court ending marriage bans and a federal court order applying that decision to Alabama's ban directly, Moore issued an order on Jan. 6, 2016, telling probate judges that prior state court orders supporting the state's marriage ban remained in effect.
Complaints filed regarding that order led the state's Judicial Inquiry Commission to begin an investigation, ending with the filing of a complaint against Moore in May.
The Court of the Judiciary heard the complaint, with the nine-member body unanimously finding Moore guilty of all six charges brought against him.
One distinction between Moore being suspended for the remainder of his term and removed from office is that a suspension leads only to the naming of an acting chief justice, not the potential for Gov. Robert Bentley — facing his own crisis in office — to put forth his own appointment to the court.
"From the key point of whether [Moore] can exercise judicial authority, there is no difference," Cohen said, "and that was our aim."
Moore has been suspended from sitting on the bench since the filing of the complaint against him in May.
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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