First, a federal judge ordered "Roy's Rock" - a large, granite monument to the Ten Commandments - removed from the rotunda of Alabama's Supreme Court building. Then on Thursday, the state's special ethics panel, Court of the Judiciary, removed Roy Moore from his job as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for his defiance of the federal court order. The unanimous decision by the nine-member panel was a courageous act in a state where religious fervor is considered a primary qualification for the judiciary.
The ethics panel is an appointed body composed of eight men and one woman. It includes Democrats and Republicans who hold a variety of jobs from attorney to county commissioner and hail from across the state. Only through a unanimous decision could Moore be removed from the bench, and lesser penalties were available. It would have been politically expedient to slap the man on the wrist and move on. Moore's defiance of the federal court order to remove the Ten Commandments has been extremely popular with the state's religious conservatives. But the ethics panel took its obligations to follow the law seriously. William Thompson, head of the panel, said he and his colleagues couldn't abide a justice who "placed himself above the law" and "showed no signs of contrition for his actions."
Moore consistently claimed that the order to remove the monument issued by two federal courts was illegal and that those courts did not have the authority to interfere in Alabama's sovereignty - a baseless contention that was nullified in the era of Southern resistance to civil rights. But even with his fellow Alabamians sitting in judgment and ruling against him, Moore remained defiant, vowing that "the battle is not over."
Moore's disregard for the rule of law made him an incompetent and dangerous jurist. Unfortunately, we may not have seen the last of him. Moore is not proscribed from running for state office or even for his old seat as chief justice in 2006. He also may choose to appeal the ethics court's decision to the Alabama Supreme Court. He is not likely to go quietly. Alabama deserves better.