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The Challenge
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law

December 2003, vol. 14, no. 2

A justice gone awry

As an attorney, the dispute in Alabama involving the monument to the Ten Commandments raised concerns that have nothing to do with the separation of church and state. Whether or not you believe the placement of the monument in the Alabama State Court building violated the hazy concept of separation of church and state, hopefully you agree with me that Chief Justice Roy Moore's actions are inexcusable. I hope he is permanently removed from the bench.

Our judicial system is based upon respect for the various levels of judiciary and obedience to rulings and decisions handed down. To be sure, our system recognizes the possibility that a lower court ruling may be in error, which is why there exists different levels of appeal. In the end, when the appeals are exhausted, a final ruling is entered that is expected to be obeyed. We expect such obedience from our citizens. How can we ignore disobedience from a judge who is a member of the system?

As I understand it, a federal judge found the placement of the monument to the Ten Commandments in a State Court Building violated the concept of separation of church and state and ordered its removal. Justice Moore, as was right, sought appeal of that ruling, ultimately to the United States Supreme Court. Reveiw of that order was denied.

As we all know, the Supreme Court has the final say on matters relating to the U.S. Constitution. When the Supreme Court denies review, the lower court's decision stands and becomes binding on all parties.

I believe Justice Moore had the right to voice his personal disagreement with the ruling. He went much further and openly defied the Order and refused to permit the removal of the monument. The other eight Justices on the Alabama Supreme Court voted for removal of the monument. In the end, it was removed despite the efforts of Justice Moore.

When a judge's conduct serves to undermine the integrity of our judicial system; when a judge attempts to place his personal opinions above the rulings of a superior court; when a judge openly defies a directive from a superior court; he deserves to be removed. In our society people sometimes refuse to obey court orders. When they do there are penalties imposed through means such as contempt of court. The penalty Justice Moore should pay is the loss of his position on the Alabama Supreme Court. He deserves to lose his position not for his religious beliefs but rather, for his lack of belief in and obedience to our judicial system.


Randy Wilt is an associate with the law firm of Sreenan & Cain in Rockford. He practices in the area of criminal defense.