Alabama Chief Justice: Ignore the Federal Court

Roy Moore is at it again.

MooreVia    Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore again advises probate judges they are not bound by same-sex ruling

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has written an advisory letter and memorandum to the state’s probate judges saying that they are not required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite the court ruling striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.

Moore’s letter, dated today, repeats the earlier assertion he made — that state courts are not bound by federal district courts or federal appeals courts on questions of federal constitutional law.

“Interference with the right of state courts to make independent judgments based on their own view of the U.S. Constitution is a violation of state sovereignty,” Moore wrote in the four-page letter.

For clarification sake, probate judges in Alabama are county-level officials who oversee things like vita records and such.

I would argue that Moore’s interpretation of this situation is, to be kind, odd.  For example, I give you the Supremacy Clause (i.e., Article VI of the US Constitution, paragraph 2):

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Beyond that, it is hardly the case that state courts trump federal courts in terms of interpreting the federal constitution.

Keep in mind:  a federal court has declared Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional (in a way that comports with a number of other such courts) and now the Court of Appeals has denied a stay of that order fully expecting the state to issue same-sex marriage licenses:

Granade, meanwhile, decided to let her stay remain in place until Feb. 9, as originally planned. The judge said probate courts need time to prepare to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

The notion that Moore thinks his role as chief administrator of state courts means he has the power to ignore both a federal district court ruing and a Court of Appeals affirmation that the ruling is to be enforced is highly problematic from a constitutional (and rule of law) point of view.

This is not the first time Moore has been in conflict with the federal bench, specifically he was removed from his position as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court when he refused to comply with a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the Supreme Court building which he had had installed.  Moore flirted with various electoral campaigns, including an attempt at the GOP nomination for governor in Alabama.  He eventually sought, and won, his old job as Chief Justice in 2012.

He has a very conservative (indeed, reactionary), theology-based view of the law.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Given how things went for Moore the last time he openly defied the order of a Federal Judge, I would not advise the Probate Judges to follow his advice if they know what’s good for them.

  2. Mu says:

    @Doug Mataconis: if they know what’s good for them

    Well, what could happen to them? They surely going to enjoy absolute immunity from lawsuits for actions from the bench, could the Federal judge send the US marshals to have a probate judge arrested for contempt?

  3. @Mu:

    They could be held in contempt for defying a court order, which could lead to monetary fines and, potentially, criminal charges.

  4. Tony W says:

    Moore is clearly fighting for his place in history as the new George Wallace.

  5. JWH says:


    They’ll be forced to move to Brooklyn and be roommates with hipsters.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    This man is a Patriot of the first and finest order. I can tell because he has a lot of Red, White, and Blue banners around his campaign office. Kind of like the Utah state senator who wants his compatriots in the state legislature to swear fealty to the Utah state constitution above and beyond the US constitution***. They are all Patriots who love their country the way they wish it was.

    ***Haven’t been able to bring myself to click thru and actually read the article, so maybe he is not as big an idiot as I think he is. Then again, he’s probably worse, they usually are.

  7. JWH says:

    @Mu: They’ll be force-fed pumpkin-spice lattes as girls in yoga pants tell them everything there is to love about autumn.

    They’ll have to live with their mothers.

    They’ll be forced to appear in Big Brother: Alabama Jurist.

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JWH: worse than that, black gay hipsters.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JWH: They already live with their mothers.

  10. al-Ameda says:

    155 years ago Lincoln made a big mistake.

  11. Rob Prather says:

    This guy is such an embarrassment.

  12. @Doug Mataconis:

    Given how things went for Moore the last time he openly defied the order of a Federal Judge, I would not advise the Probate Judges to follow his advice if they know what’s good for them.

    The voters decided to give him a promotion?

  13. @Stormy Dragon: To give the voters some credit, he did really poorly when he tried to win the nomination for governor. Further, the Democratic candidate for CJ was so bad he had to be replaced by another candidate between the primaries and the general (plus, Reps win the general no matter what these days).

    Having said all of that, he is pretty popular with a lot of folks in the state.

  14. Grewgills says:

    He needs to be removed from office by the COJ again and should be disbarred. Of course, he would run again and probably win back his position again.

  15. jewelbomb says:

    Seriously, what’s the downside for Moore in this situation? He gets to stand up to the “oppressive” federal government, and if he’s removed or disbarred it will just play into the far-right’s persecution complex and make him an even bigger hero to the crazies who believe their rights are somehow getting trampled.

  16. Trumwill says:

    @jewelbomb: The downside is that he gets booted again and next time he doesn’t get his old job back (he only barely did this time, and that after two times getting his butt whipped while running for governor).

  17. Tyrell says:

    While it is tempting for me to throw in with him on this, I do not want some local judge upholding some illegal, misguided law outlawing handguns, property seizures, travel restrictions, restrictions on personal freedoms such as the infamous soft drink laws and other misguided laws that control what people can eat and drink, and laws controlling churches.
    Our area still has laws that prohibit sales and public consumption of alcoholic beverages and laws that control business hours on Sunday. The big majority around here still favors those laws and that will never change in my lifetime.
    There are many times that I have expressed disagreement with some of these federal court decisions. But there are also times when I agree, as in striking down laws that restrict our freedoms. And it always feels better when rights and freedoms are affirmed.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @Tyrell: Dude, the laws you mention aren’t necessarily illegal. Just because something frosts your shorts because it “infringes” on your “freedom” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a perfectly legitimate law.

    Example: Zoning laws are not a “taking” under the Fifth Amendment.
    Example: Marriage laws saying you can’t commit bigamy
    Example: Restrictions and requirements the state has before it will allow you to form a corporation.

  19. Guarneri says:

    The downside is that he has to display a replica of the Barack Obama pen and phone on his desk…..

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Guarneri: That’ll hurt.

  21. Franklin says:

    @Guarneri: Yes, he’s recommending ignoring the federal court … because Obama.

    /On second thought, maybe you’re right …

  22. DrDaveT says:

    He has a very conservative (indeed, reactionary), theology-based view of the law.

    Once again, these are not conservative views. Or values.

  23. Tyrell says:

    Judge Moore is a fine Christian man. He is highly respected, of impeccable character, and has not forgotten the people.

  24. Tony W says:


    Judge Moore is a fine Christian man. He is highly respected, of impeccable character, and has not forgotten the people.

    ….or at least those who look and think exactly as he does. Nobody else matters anyway.

  25. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Of course, the fact that he is a justice, seated on the highest court in his state, who completely ignores, and even actively violates, the foundations of constitutional law means nothing.

    And yet you wonder why we ridicule the South …

  26. Kelley says:

    @jewelbomb: Unfortunately I think he knows exactly what he’s doing and he seems wildly popular in Bama. If he’s removed or even disbarred (I’m betting on removal, not disbarment, but time will tell I guess) he can go back to running his conservative organization. I bet the donations are pouring in right about now.

    I love Alabama, I love the weather, I love the cost of living, I love the sports, I love the food, I love the people, but I sure do not love the politics and I wouldn’t be shocked if he were re elected yet again. Nothing about the political climate here shocks me anymore.

  27. Tony W says:

    @Tyrell: Here’s the aftermath of your fine Christian man’s leadership: