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Alabama’s top judge is suspended after refusing to obey the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling

The message is clear: No one is above the law.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks in Atlanta.
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks in Atlanta.
Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

Nearly a year after the Supreme Court struck down all states' same-sex marriage bans, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore kept trying to disobey the ruling and block marriage equality in his state anyway. So on Friday, a judicial court suspended Moore for the rest of his term — effectively removing Moore from office.

Over the past couple years, Moore had repeatedly told the state's probate judges that they couldn't issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the Alabama Supreme Court, which Moore oversaw, said otherwise — no matter what the federal courts said.

Moore wrote earlier this year, "Until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court that Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act remain in full force and effect."

Moore's so-called clarification came despite multiple federal rulings, including the US Supreme Court decision, that nullified Alabama's same-sex marriage ban, making the ban's enforcement illegal. Moore tried to ignore the rulings — which are the law of the land — and it effectively cost him his job.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has tried this before

Last year, Moore and the Alabama Supreme Court tried multiple times to sustain the state's same-sex marriage ban. But it all began in February 2015, when Moore ordered probate judges to not grant same-sex marriage licenses.

What was striking back then — and is striking now — is that Moore was effectively ignoring standing federal law over marriage equality. For whatever reason, he does not seem to believe that federal courts can end Alabama's unconstitutional marriage law, even though they absolutely can in the US justice system.

One explanation: Moore opposes same-sex marriages, so he's doing everything he can to obstruct the inevitable. Asked whether he's on the wrong side of history by ABC News in 2015, Moore responded, "Absolutely not. Do they stop with one man and one man, or one woman and one woman? Or do they go to multiple marriages? Or do they go to marriages between men and their daughters, or women and their sons?"

This isn't the first time the outspoken conservative and his court have attempted to ignore federal rulings. In 2003, Moore was removed from the bench when he defied a federal judge's order to move a 10 Commandments monument from the Alabama Supreme Court building. But in 2012, the state reelected him to the Alabama Supreme Court position.

It was always hard to see how this episode could have possibly ended positively for Moore. The courts have been very clear that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, yet Moore kept trying to enforce his state's ban anyway. And now, Moore is suffering the consequences — just like he did after his previous protests from the bench.

Alabama has a history of opposing courts on civil rights

Alabama Gov. George Wallace blocks the door of an administrative building in the University of Alabama.
Alabama Gov. George Wallace blocks the door of an administrative building in the University of Alabama.
MPI via Getty Images

Anti-court protests aren't new for Alabama, which has a long history of trying to fight federal courts on civil rights.

In the 1960s, Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a Democrat at the time, infamously attempted to stop the desegregation of public schools after the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which deemed state laws establishing separate public schools for white and black students unconstitutional. This fight was part of a political promise for Wallace, who said at his inauguration, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

In response to Wallace, President John F. Kennedy federalized National Guard troops and sent them to the University of Alabama to enforce the Supreme Court's ruling. Wallace eventually backed down, allowing black students to enroll in the school.

When the controversy with Moore started in 2015, Joseph Smith, a judicial politics expert at the University of Alabama, told the New York Times that the chief justice's stance is very similar to Wallace's back in the 1960s: "It's a very similar strain of ideology: the state's rights, resisting the national tide, resisting liberal movements in policy."

So just like the battle over segregation, with same-sex marriage there's yet another leader in Alabama trying to stop civil rights progress. But just as Wallace lost back then, it looks like Moore lost today.

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