Published August 23, 2003
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama's chief justice was suspended for disobeying a federal court's order that he remove a Ten Commandments (search) monument from the rotunda of the state judicial building. Yet, Saturday, the massive granite marker remained in place and there were no signs it would soon be moved.
Chief Justice Roy Moore (search), who installed the 5,300-pound monument two years ago, was suspended with pay Friday when the nine-member Judicial Inquiry Commission referred an ethics complaint against him to the Court of the Judiciary (search), which can discipline and remove judges.
Moore had no immediate comment after the decision. His spokesman, Tom Parker, said his attorneys would respond to the complaint Monday.
A spokesman said Friday that Moore still intends to formally appeal the federal removal order to the U.S. Supreme Court (search).
Moore met with the commission on Friday as about 100 of his supporters at the federal courthouse ripped and burned a copy of U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson's order for the monument's removal.
He said he told the commission he upheld his oath of office by acknowledging God. He has said Thompson had no authority to tell the state's chief justice to remove the monument.
Although Moore's supporters have said they will try to prevent court officials from moving the monument, his attorneys offered assurances that Moore will not interfere with the removal during a conference call Friday with Thompson, two plaintiffs' attorneys who also took part in the call said.
Attorney General Bill Pryor said the public corruption and white collar crime unit in his office will handle the prosecution of the chief justice on the ethics complaint. He said senior Associate Justice Gorman Houston will perform the chief justice's duties while Moore is suspended.
"I'm not happy we have to deal with these matters, but it is part of our duties and we will continue to do so," Pryor said.
Thompson ruled last year that the monument's placement in the public rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building violated the Constitution's ban on government promotion of a religious doctrine.
He ordered the monument removed by Wednesday — the same day the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Moore's appeal for an emergency stay.
When Moore still refused to move the marker, the state Supreme Court's eight associate justices overruled him and ordered the monument out of the rotunda, though officials said it could be placed elsewhere in the building. Court officials on Friday discussed where it might be moved to comply with the order and still be secure.
Joe Conn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which sued to remove the monument, said Moore brought the suspension on himself.
"He knew all along that state court judges cannot defy the federal courts and yet he went ahead with this anyway," Conn said.
A Moore supporter, Alabama Christian Coalition president John Giles, said the commission was "trying to take down one of America's finest."
The ethics complaint, filed by Montgomery lawyer Stephen Glassroth, now goes to the Court of the Judiciary, a panel made up of four judges, three lawyers and two non-lawyers.
Attorneys who sued to get the monument out of the rotunda, meanwhile, put their contempt filing against Moore on hold after the associated justices said the monument would be moved.
Ayesha Khan, an attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said plaintiffs would drop their request to hold Moore in contempt, or fine the state, if the monument is moved by the end of next week.
Outside the judicial building Saturday, about 100 people sat on the front steps and in lawn chairs listening to people preach and praying.
Retired Birmingham school teacher Murray Phillips, who joined the demonstrators Friday, said she knows the monument will probably be moved soon.
"I'm upset, but I'm not surprised," she said. "At least I am going to be able to say to my grandchildren that at least I tried to do something."