Oh goody, it’s Brown v Board all over again – with reactionary officials defying a federal court in a last ditch effort to deny people civil rights. Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court last night told the state’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Monday. George Wallace lives!
“Effective immediately, no probate judge of the State of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama probate judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent” with the Alabama Constitution or state law, the chief justice wrote in his order.
The order, coming just hours before the January decisions of United States District Court Judge Callie V. S. Granade were scheduled to take effect, was almost certainly going to thrust this state into legal turmoil. It was not immediately clear how the state’s 68 probate judges, who, like Chief Justice Moore, are popularly elected, would respond to the order.
District Court is higher than a state Supreme Court, as I understand it. State courts aren’t supposed to flout rulings by District Courts. But then this is Roy Moore…
Some judges across the state had already signaled they would do nothing to aid gay couples and, in some instances, any couples. “Marriage licenses and ceremonies are no longer available at the Pike County Probate Office,” the office said.
And Washington County Probate Judge Nick Williams released a “declaration in support of marriage” in which he said he would “only issue marriage licenses and solemnize ceremonies consistent with Alabama law and the U.S. Constitution; namely, between one man and one woman only, so help me God.”
Several judges elsewhere announced variations of those plans after a push by Chief Justice Moore, who rose to national prominence in the early 2000s when he defied a federal judge’s order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a Montgomery building and was subsequently ousted from his post leading the high court. He staged a political comeback, became chief justice again in 2013, and has in recent weeks said that Alabama’s probate judges are not bound by a federal trial court’s decisions. His argument has deep resonance in a place where a governor, George Wallace, stood in a doorway of the University of Alabama in 1963 in an unsuccessful bid to block its federally ordered integration.
Right, it has deep resonance. Deep, bad resonance.
Although much has changed from Wallace’s era, Chief Justice Moore had used a series of strongly worded letters and memorandums to insist that Judge Granade, an appointee of President George W. Bush who joined the federal bench in 2002, had instigated a grave breach of law.
The result had been a legal and cultural debate rife with overtones of history, closely held religious beliefs and a chronically bubbling mistrust of the federal government that was expected to play out at Alabama’s courthouses Monday.
Yay! Let’s have this fight all over again. Let’s draw a line in the sand denying other people civil rights so that we can hog all the civil rights to our own sweet Christian selves. Let’s pride ourselves on being the wrong side of history and the wrong side of all human rights issues. Let’s make a big point of oppressing minority groups for no reason other than to puff up ourselves and our imagined god.
The chief justice’s misgivings speak to widespread concerns here about federal overreach and same-sex marriage in Alabama, where about 81 percent of voters in 2006 supported a constitutional amendment banning gay nuptials. Few here doubt the force of his belief that Judge Granade’s orders hold only “persuasive authority,” and not binding power, on Alabama judges.
“My guess is that is actually the way Roy Moore sincerely understands the federal-state relationship,” said Joseph Smith, a judicial politics expert at the University of Alabama. “He’s also an elected politician, and he knows who his constituency is.”
All theocratic bigots are they?
For many here, it is unsurprising that Chief Justice Moore emerged as a strident voice in a social debate after the dispute about the Ten Commandments display, known as “Roy’s Rock,” forced him from power.
“Unfortunately, sometimes it makes for very good politics here to be seen as opposing federal intervention, whether it’s from a court or a federal agency,” said David G. Kennedy, who represents two women involved in a case that prompted Judge Granade’s decision. “The situation here is that this is not federal intervention. It’s not federal intervention at all. What it is, is a federal court declaring what same-sex couples’ rights are under the federal Constitution.”
Federal constitution. Alabama is not part of that federation. It…it…it abstains.