Alabama justice off bench for defying feds on gay marriage

FILE - In this June 28, 2015, file photo, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks to the congregation of Kimberly Church of God in Kimberly, Ala. Moore continues to fight against gay marriage in the state, suggesting on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, that Alabama probate judges should refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 that effectively legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)
FILE - In this June 28, 2015, file photo, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks to the congregation of Kimberly Church of God in Kimberly, Ala. Moore continues to fight against gay marriage in the state, suggesting on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, that Alabama probate judges should refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 that effectively legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s defiance of federal court rulings on gay marriage violated judicial ethics, a disciplinary court ruled on Friday before suspending him for the rest of his term.

The punishment effectively removes Moore from office without the nine-member Alabama Court of the Judiciary officially ousting him. Given his age, he will not be able to run for chief justice again under state law.

Moore was found to have encouraged probate judges to deny marriage licenses to gay couples six months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that everyone has a fundamental right to marry in all 50 states.

Moore vehemently denied that his administrative order was an act of defiance and said his personal beliefs had nothing to do with it.

The same panel removed the outspoken Republican in 2003 because he refused to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building. Voters later re-elected him as chief justice after he lost a race for governor.

This time, Moore sent an administrative order to the state’s 68 probate judges, maintaining that the Alabama Supreme Court’s gay marriage ban remained in “full force and effect” despite the ruling from the nation’s highest court.

Moore testified that his personal beliefs had nothing to do with it, and that his January order merely provided judges with a status report on a technical aspect of the law.

Moore, 69, had already been suspended from the bench since May, when the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission accused him of violating judicial ethics.

“We are here 13 years later because the Chief Justice learned nothing from his first removal. He continues to defy the law,” John Carroll, a lawyer representing the commission, argued Wednesday in Moore’s judicial court hearing.

Moore was loudly applauded when he entered the ornate chamber where he usually presides over the state Supreme Court. He told his inquisitors that the ethics charges were “ridiculous.”

“I gave them a status in the case, a status of the facts that these orders exist. That is all I did,” Moore testified.

Moore’s ethics trial came amid upheaval in all three branches of Alabama’s government. The Republican speaker of the state House of Representatives was removed from office this summer for criminal ethics violations. A legislative committee is weighing whether Gov. Robert Bentley should be impeached over a scandal involving a top aide.

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