6 Things You Should Know About Alabama's Chief Justice Roy Moore

A civil rights watchdog calls him the "Ayatollah of Alabama" for a reason.

Roy Moore, the chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court, made headlines on Wednesday when he directed local judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

But his order should have come as no surprise. Moore has a long history of using his perch in Alabama's judiciary to advance his own religious agenda.

Here are some key facts to know about Wednesday's order and about the man dubbed the "Ayatollah of Alabama" by the Southern Poverty Law Center:

1. Moore is telling judges to do something that clearly violates a federal court ruling.

Back in July, a federal judge in Mobile, Alabama, ordered the state's probate judges to issue same-sex marriage licenses in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark June ruling.

The proper interpretation of U.S. Supreme Court decisions can be debated, as Moore is purporting to do. But once a federal court has ruled that lower-level state judges must comply with a specific Supreme Court interpretation, they must.

"If the judges now violate that federal court order, they are liable to be found in contempt of court," said Richard Cohen, president of the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center.

Indeed, Randall Marshall, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, told HuffPost that his organization will join with the Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups in asking the federal court to find any such judges in contempt.

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Wednesday filed its third supplement to an ethics complaint originally lodged against Moore in January 2015. The complaint was sparked by a letter that month in which Moore encouraged Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) to disobey a federal court order overturning the state's same-sex marriage ban prior to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The law center argues in the latest supplement that Moore's "advising other judges to violate a federal court order ... requires his removal as Chief Justice of this state's highest court."

Moore did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ethics complaint. But his questionable behavior is consistent with his apparent belief that judges' own interpretations of the U.S. Constitution take precedence over those of higher courts.

"We are talking about someone who is truly, truly unhinged," Cohen said. "He has concocted legal theories to justify his religious goals, but none that makes any sense."

2. Moore cited the Bible when advising Alabama to disobey another federal court order on same-sex marriage.

In February of last year, Moore similarly instructed state probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses despite that January federal court order overturning the state's ban. If judges violated his order, Moore wrote, Gov. Bentley should "ensure the execution of the law."

Moore's related letter to Bentley -- sent in January before his directive to the probate judges -- was laced with biblical references in which he characterized the federal court ruling as a violation of divine law. He expressed concern about the federal courts intervening in Alabama's laws, which he wrote "have always recognized the biblical admonition stated by our Lord."

The repeated use of theological language is one reason that Cohen, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, believes Moore's judicial activism stems from genuine religious belief.

"He's not just an opportunist -- he is a religious zealot," Cohen said. "It is not for effect. This is who he is."

Chief Justice Roy Moore swore in Gov. Robert Bentley (right) for his second term on Jan. 19, 2015, amidst the ongoing battle over same-sex marriage in Alabama.
Chief Justice Roy Moore swore in Gov. Robert Bentley (right) for his second term on Jan. 19, 2015, amidst the ongoing battle over same-sex marriage in Alabama.
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

3. Moore argued that the state should keep kids away from gay parents.

During a previous stint as Alabama's chief justice in 2002, Moore joined the majority decision against a woman who wanted to retake custody of children from her former husband. The woman had come out as a lesbian after the couple divorced and was living with a female partner.

But what really caught people's attention was Moore's concurring opinion. He declared that the state had a duty to protect the children from their mother's "homosexual behavior."

"Homosexual behavior is a ground for divorce, an act of sexual misconduct punishable as a crime in Alabama, a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one's ability to describe it," Moore wrote (in a decision that came down before the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated anti-sodomy laws nationwide). "That is enough under the law to allow a court to consider such activity harmful to a child."

He also made clear his fear that being gay will rub off on the kids.

The state "must use [its] power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle," Moore wrote.

Moore was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court in 2003 for refusing to remove this Ten Commandments monument that he'd sneaked into the building.
Moore was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court in 2003 for refusing to remove this Ten Commandments monument that he'd sneaked into the building.
Gary Tramontina/Getty Images

4. Moore was thrown off the Alabama Supreme Court for installing a Ten Commandments monument in a government building and then refusing to remove it.

On Aug. 1, 2001, then-Chief Justice Moore unveiled a 5,280-pound stone monument to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama State Judicial Building. It had been installed overnight without the consent or knowledge of the other eight Supreme Court justices.

A federal court ordered Moore to remove it after finding that the monument violated the Constitution's establishment clause, which prohibits the government from putting its weight behind one religion.

Moore refused to comply, prompting an ethics complaint from the Southern Poverty Law Center that ultimately led the state's judicial ethics panel to remove him from office in November 2003.

Alabama voters elected Moore as chief justice once again in November 2012.

5. Moore supports public prayer, but only if it's Christian.

Between stints as chief justice, Moore authored an amicus brief for the town of Greece, New York, which defended allowing local clergy to offer prayers "in the name of Jesus" at town board meetings. The U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the town's policy did not violate the establishment clause in May 2014.

Perhaps emboldened by that, Moore took it a step further and criticized the Huntsville, Alabama, practice of allowing Wiccans and atheists to offer the prayer invocation at the start of city council meetings.

"We're having prayers [by] atheists? We're having Wiccans say prayers? How foolish can we be?" Moore asked the Madison County Republican Men's Club in December 2014.

"I'll say this in Huntsville because I think it needs to be said in Huntsville," Moore added. "There is one God and it's the God on which this nation was founded. And it's the God of the Scriptures. I don't need applause for that. It's a truth in history and it's a truth in law. And we're trying to change that."

6. Moore cannot be re-elected, but he can run for higher office.

Under Alabama law, no one older than 70 can be appointed or elected to the state judiciary. Moore will be 71 when he comes up for re-election to the state Supreme Court in 2018.

But there is nothing stopping him from seeking higher office.

It would not be the first time. Moore sought and lost the Republican nomination for governor of Alabama in 2006.

He even briefly entertained a run for president in 2011.

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