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'No regrets'

National | TEN COMMANDMENTS: Moore removed, but not from the public eye

Issue: "The Kennedy Assassination," Nov. 22, 2003

Atheists marched and Christians knelt. A lanky teenage boy blew his shofar over the Alabama Judicial Courthouse steps as a lone man on horseback circled the judicial house seven times, praying. Sixteen network broadcast trucks ringed the judicial courthouse, aiming massive satellite dishes skyward while reporters swarmed the complex.

More intriguing, however, were the two embattled conservative Alabamans-Roy Moore and Bill Pryor-facing off inside the courthouse. Both are nationally known: Mr. Moore as the "Ten Commandments judge," Mr. Pryor as a presidential nominee for the federal courts. Both originally were appointed to state public service by former Alabama Gov. Fob James: Mr. Moore as a circuit judge, Mr. Pryor as state attorney general. Both were embroiled in battles of great consequence: Mr. Moore to keep his Supreme Court chief justice post in Alabama, Mr. Pryor to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a judge on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Both are strong supporters of the Ten Commandments but disagree about whether the federal courts have proper jurisdiction over state displays of Commandments monuments.

Add about 200 onlookers, whose seats in first- and second-floor chambers were harder to secure than Alabama or Auburn football tickets, plus two overflow rooms, and there was high drama.

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Inside the cavernous Supreme Court chambers, nine appointees of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary heard charges from Mr. Pryor that Mr. Moore violated six points of the state's Canon of Judicial Ethics by disobeying a federal order to remove a massive Ten Commandments monument from the judicial house rotunda. The panel reconvened a day later, having voted unanimously to remove Mr. Moore, the 56-year-old West Point graduate and Vietnam vet, from office.

Mr. Moore was suspended with pay nearly three months ago from his post for not removing the monument he commissioned from an Alabama artisan and then placed in the judicial building rotunda four months after his March 2001 election.

"Law has a moral foundation," the now-former chief justice testified during his trial. "It comes from the acknowledgment of the God of the Bible. Without acknowledgment of God, you can have no moral foundation." Mr. Moore and his team frequently cited quotations from judges from the 1700s and 1800s to bolster their case that the modern judiciary has strayed from biblical roots.

Ultimately, Mr. Moore hung his argument on the idea that the removal order was illegitimate: Display of the Ten Commandments monument-and the state acknowledgment of God it symbolizes-represents a higher moral law than Federal Judge Myron Thompson's Aug. 5 order. "It would violate my conscience, violate my oath of office, violate the Constitution, violate every rule of law I was sworn to uphold," Mr. Moore testified.

When the ACLU sued Mr. Moore in 1997 for displaying a hand-carved wooden Ten Commandments plaque inside his chambers, Mr. Pryor defended the then-district judge. But this time around-and to the consternation of former governor Fob James, who attended the hearings-Mr. Pryor prosecuted Mr. Moore.

Mr. Pryor told the ethics panel everyone eventually must submit to judicial rulings, even if they disagree with them. Once Mr. Moore exhausted appeals at the district court, appellate court, and U.S. Supreme court levels, the time to submit came, he said. Mr. Moore testified he would "make [the same decisions] again," and, said Mr. Pryor, was "totally unrepentant."

"No judge is above the law," Mr. Pryor stated, adding if a chief justice could choose which legal rulings to obey and which not to, the public would get the idea that they could, too.

"There is no middle ground," said Mr. Pryor. "The stakes here are high because this case raises a fundamental question: What does it mean to have a government of laws and not of men?"

Mr. Pryor argues that it means to work within the system to vote for good judges and officials or even to change the Constitution and repeal bad laws, but he warned that defiance of legal rulings could "lead to anarchy." For his part, Mr. Moore testified that while he said he could not remove the monument, "I did not say defy. I did not use those words." Mr. Moore insisted that he is working within the system and that runaway judges have turned the federal courts into the lawless ones. The time is now, he argues, to draw a line against judicial activism, and that ultimately will lead to a "greater public respect for the law."

So what now? Despite the ruling, Mr. Moore left the courtroom a popular figure with "no regrets"; with members of his family, he exited to a standing ovation from admirers. One of his attorneys, Terry Butts, told The Birmingham News Mr. Moore will "be back as a U.S. Senator.... He may be back as governor." Another member of the Moore legal team, Jim Wilson, told the paper: "This is the kind of guy you want to elect as president."

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