Alabama chief justice ousted by judicial panel over gay marriage defiance


Participant hold up a giant rainbow flag during an annual Gay Pride Parade in Mexico City.

ALABAMA - The chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court was effectively ousted on Friday by a judicial panel that found he unethically resisted US court rulings that legalised same-sex marriage.

Chief Justice Roy Moore, 69, violated judicial ethics by ordering probate judges to defy federal court orders on same-sex marriage, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary ruled.

It was the second suspension for the outspokenly conservative Moore. Earlier, he was sanctioned for refusing to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments in a state building.

Moore's lawyer, Mat Staver, said he plans to appeal the unanimous decision to suspend him without pay for the rest of his term, effective immediately. Staver said the latest suspension essentially removes Moore from the bench, as the chief justice will be too old to seek re-election when his term ends in January 2019.

Civil rights proponents hailed the move. "The people of Alabama who cherish the rule of law are not going to miss the Ayatollah of Alabama," Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement.

Moore was charged with ethical violations over a January 6 order seen as directing state judges to withhold marriage licences from same-sex couples, despite federal court rulings to the contrary.

The Alabama Court of the Judiciary said in the ruling that Moore's order showed "disregard for binding federal law." It followed the US Supreme Court's landmark June 2015 decision giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry in all 50 states.

The judiciary court rejected the chief justice's argument that he was providing a status update to probate judges. Moore has insisted there was uncertainty after conflicting opinions on gay marriage from state and federal courts.

"I think this ruling is an abuse of power," Moore's lawyer, Staver, said by phone. "It's a de facto removal."

The ruling also noted Moore's history with the state's judiciary court. In 2003, he was removed from the bench for defying a federal order to take down a Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the state's judicial building. Voters re-elected him as chief justice in 2012.

The charges against him came after ethics complaints filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has said Moore should be removed from office.

"It undermined the integrity of the judiciary, the spectacle of a chief justice telling other judges not to follow a court order," the SPLC's Cohen said by phone.