This is the year of political circuses. We've been so distracted by all the bright, shiny outrages coming out of the tall shiny Trump Tower, that this triple scandal from next door in Alabama hasn't gotten its due. In fact, the main story is months old, and the followup I wanted to report has been waiting weeks for its turn.
To recap: The three heads of the three branches of state government (executive, legislative, judiciary) were all under different scandalous clouds earlier this year; and they all risked being removed from office. Alabama already had a D+ rating from the Center for Public Integrity that grades states on corruption. Then in May this "scandal trio" hit the national news.
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard faced 23 felony charges of using his office to obtain financial favors from lobbyists to benefit his businesses. Governor Robert Bentley faced potential impeachment over allegations of an affair with a former staffer, using public funds to facilitate and hide it. And Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended on charges of violating judicial ethics by ordering Alabama's probate judges to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that overturned state bans on same-sex marriage.
This is not Moore's first run in with judicial ethics. In a previous term as Chief Justice, Moore defied orders from the Alabama Court of the Judiciary (the oversight group for the judiciary) to remove his 2+ ton, granite monument of the Ten Commandments he had installed in the lobby of the Judicial Building. Because of his protracted refusal and other charges, they removed him from office in 2003. Later he ran for governor and lost. But then in 2012 the people elected him again to the office of Chief Justice.
Then along came the 2015 SCOTUS decision on gay marriage. Moore claimed that the SCOTUS decision did not apply to Alabama law, and he ordered the state probate judges to ignore it and to enforce the state ban, under threat of legal action. The Court of the Judiciary stepped in again, suspending Moore again, and setting an ethics trial before the full nine-member court in September.
That is what has just happened and why this is news again. Moore was defended by the same Liberty Council law firm that defended Kim Davis. At the trial, Moore did not deny the charges; in fact, his own words convicted him, and all nine justices found him guilty. The Court could have expelled him, removing him entirely from judicial practice. Instead, they opted to suspend him, without pay, through the remainder of his term as Chief Justice, which goes through the end of 2018. He is not eligible to run for another term because of his age, so this effectively removes him permanently from office.
Richard Cohen, president of The Southern Poverty Law Center, which brought the case against Moore, commented on the verdict: “The Court of the Judiciary has done a tremendous service to the people of Alabama by stripping him of his judicial power. . . . He clearly did not understand the difference between being a judge and being a preacher.”
If my tone seems condescending toward Alabama, let me say that every family, including mine, has some crazy uncles that don't represent the best of us. I have friends in Alabama, and they are good people, kind and big hearted and inclusive. And Georgia doesn't have room to be smug. We're not too far from having our very own colorful Lester "Ax-Handle" Maddox as governor. And, by the way, the Birmingham News has endorsed Hillary Clinton.