Dispatches > The Buzz

Defying the 'almighty court'

Unmoved by the threat of fines, Alabama's chief justice is ready to take his feud with a federal court judge over the Ten Commandments to the U.S. Supreme Court

Issue: "Nuclear threat in Korea," Aug. 16, 2003

The Alabama Constitution invokes "the favor and guidance of Almighty God," but the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals insisted that a granite Ten Commandments monument in the state's Judicial Building is offensive-and gave the green light last week to a federal judge to remove it. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson gave the state Supreme Court justice who placed the monument two weeks to get rid of it-and threatened daily fines against the financially strapped state for failure to comply.

Come Aug. 20, if Chief Justice Roy Moore has anything to say about it, the monument will remain. "Our justice system is established on the basis of Almighty God, not the almighty court," Mr. Moore declared. Sitting in his judicial chambers flanked by portraits of Abraham Lincoln and William Blackstone, Mr. Moore spoke with WORLD one day after the appellate court ruling.

Before the interview, though, the chief justice and his staff received additional news: Judge Myron Thompson had "inadvertently omitted" the names of all the other Alabama high court justices from the previous day's order; they, even though they were never named in the complaint, are now on notice. Moore aide Tom Parker dismissed the tactic as a divide-and-conquer strategy: "Judge Thompson is going ballistic and overreaching his authority."

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For his part, Justice Moore plans to use his authority to confront what he calls 40 years of judicial activism in a face-off that could end before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Moore first achieved conservative hero status in 1992 when he defied a federal judge's order and ACLU challenge to remove a wooden Ten Commandments plaque from the Northeast Alabama District courtroom where Mr. Moore originally presided.

In early 2001, Mr. Moore was elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court on a promise to "restore the moral foundation of our law."

Using private money, Chief Justice Moore commissioned the 5,280-pound monument featuring the Ten Commandments and other famous quotes by Founding Fathers about Judeo-Christian influence in the origins of the U.S. legal system.

In October of 2001, three Alabama lawyers sued Mr. Moore in federal court, represented by the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Judge Thompson ruled in their favor and ordered the monument removed within 30 days, but stayed the order pending Mr. Moore's appeal, which was rejected last month. Last week, Judge Thompson turned up the heat.

But Moore attorney Phillip Jauregui says his client won't comply, contending: (1) a religious monument does not amount to establishing a religion, rather it simply promotes the state's constitutionally stated Judeo-Christian foundations; and (2) Judge Thompson's order violates Alabama's right to enforce its own state constitution, a violation of the 10th Amendment.

Alabama Governor Bob Riley's spokesman, David Azbell, said the governor supports paying any fines against Chief Justice Moore's Supreme Court until the matter is finally resolved. "This debate has been going on in Alabama for around a decade, and getting a final opinion from the highest court in the nation serves the public good."

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