Alabama politics are at a low point even by the state’s own high – or low – standards: three top elected officials are embroiled in scandal or facing removal from office while a former governor serves time in federal prison on a corruption conviction.
On Friday, chief justice Roy Moore was suspended from his job. He faces possible ouster over his attempts to block gay marriage following the US supreme court ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
It is familiar territory for the Republican, a Christian conservative who was removed from the same position in 2003 over a Ten Commandments monument, then easily won re-election later.
Other Republicans tried to remove Governor Robert Bentley by impeachment in the just-ended legislative session, over a sexually charged scandal involving a top political aide. An investigation continues. GOP House speaker Mike Hubbard, meanwhile, awaits state trial on 23 felony ethics charges.
If convicted, Hubbard could even join the ranks of the imprisoned like former governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat who was convicted on federal influence-peddling charges.
All in all, it’s some of the worst of times for Republicans who promised to clean up state government after seizing control from Democrats who dominated for generations.
Among the nation’s poorest states, Alabama is troubled by problem areas including physical and mental health; comparatively low high school graduation rates; and too many occupational deaths, according to a report by the United Health Foundation.
Yet the ranking leaders elected to sort out the mess face confounding troubles of their own.
In its list of civil charges against Moore, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (AJIC) said the 69-year-old chief justice abused his office by issuing an administrative order to probate judges in January, telling them an Alabama court order and law banning same-sex marriages remained in effect despite the US supreme court decision affirming same-sex marriage six months earlier.
Most counties issued same-sex licenses anyway.
In a statement after his suspension, Moore said the commission did not have the authority to police the order he issued. As during a news conference last week, Moore criticized the AJIC by referring to a recent protest outside his office that included gay and transgender people.
“The JIC has chosen to listen to people like … a professed transvestite and other gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals, as well as organizations which support their agenda,” Moore said. “We intend to fight this agenda vigorously and expect to prevail.”
The court of the judiciary will decide whether Moore violated judicial ethics, and he could be removed from office if found guilty. The same court removed Moore from office in 2003 for his refusal to follow a federal court order directing him to remove a washing machine-sized Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the state’s judicial building.