Alabama Chief Justice removed from office

MONTGOMERY, Alabama (CNN) — Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was ordered removed from office Thursday after a state ethics board ruled unanimously that he had violated judicial ethics rules by defying a federal judge’s order to move a stone Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building.

At a hearing Wednesday Moore said his state oath of office required him to defy the order.

“I would do everything I’ve done again,” Moore told the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. “I stand by what I’ve done.”

The nine-member court, which includes judges, lawyers and non-lawyers, could have reprimanded Moore, continued his suspension or cleared him.

Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor had filed the ethics charges against Moore after the chief justice refused U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson’s order to remove the monument. Thompson ruled the monument was an unconstitutional promotion of religion by government in violation of the First Amendment.

Prosecutors rested their case after just 25 minutes, presenting the panel with documents and videotapes they say prove Moore defied a lawful court order in violation of his oath of office.

Moore had demanded a televised trial in a larger venue than the Supreme Court courtroom, and said Wednesday’s proceedings amounted to a closed hearing.

He has argued that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of American law, and that federal courts cannot block him from acknowledging God. Moore’s attorney, Terry Butts, told reporters after Wednesday’s trial that Moore “couldn’t follow an unlawful order.”

“What did he do that was improper? He upheld the integrity of the law,” said Butts, a former state Supreme Court justice. “He did what he should do. Now, he’s being prosecuted for that.”

In August Moore refused to remove the 2.6-ton granite monument from the state judicial building rotunda. Moore was suspended from office, and the state’s eight other justices ordered the monument moved out of public view. (Full story (/2003/LAW/08/27/ten.commandments/index.html))

The U.S. Supreme Court on November 3 refused to hear Moore’s appeal in the case. (Full story (/2003/LAW/11/04/scotus.tencommandments/))

Moore has argued that the order to remove the monument, which he installed after being elected chief justice in 2000, violated Alabama’s “state sovereignty” and the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“It is clear I did not obey the edict of a federal judge who said we could not acknowledge God,” he said. “The question is why I did that — that’s the one thing people inside don’t want you to know.”

But Richard Cohen — an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the groups that sued Moore over the monument — said the case against Moore is “open and shut.”

“The canons of ethics say you’ve got to uphold and respect the law,” Cohen said. “Moore said, ‘I am gonna defy the law,’ and it doesn’t get any clearer than that.”

Republicans drop support

Moore’s case has become a magnet for religious conservatives around the country.

He and his supporters say the Ten Commandments are the foundation of the U.S. legal system and that forbidding the acknowledgment of the Judeo-Christian God violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion. (Moore interview with CNN (/2003/LAW/09/02/cnna.moore/))

But a lawsuit filed after the monument’s installation argued the massive stone marker constituted a government endorsement of Christianity.

The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … .”

With Thompson threatening to fine the state $5,000 a day for defying his order, Pryor and Gov. Bob Riley refused to support Moore.

Both men are Republicans and self-professed conservative Christians who supported the monument’s installation, but they said Moore was bound to obey Thompson’s order. President Bush, who has been silent on the issue, has nominated Pryor to a seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Moore was a circuit judge in Etowah County, northeast of Birmingham, in the late 1990s when he fought a lawsuit seeking to remove a wooden plaque depicting the commandments from his courtroom.

The legal battle propelled him to statewide office in 2000, when the Republican jurist was elected chief justice after campaigning as the “Ten Commandments Judge.”

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