The nine members of Alabama’s Court of the Judiciary unanimously voted to impose the harshest possible penalty by removing Moore, who was elected to a six-year term as the state’s top judge in 2000.
“Finding no other viable alternatives, this court hereby finds that Roy S. Moore be removed from his position as chief justice of Alabama,” said Judge William Thompson, a member of the special judicial panel.
Thompson said Moore “willfully and publicly” defied a U.S. district judge’s order to remove the monument from public view in the state judicial building and showed “no signs of contrition for his actions.”
“The chief justice placed himself above the law,” Thompson said.
A federal judge ruled in August that the display of the 5,000-pound stone marker inscribed with the Ten Commandments in the courthouse was an unconstitutional promotion of religion by the government. A federal appeals court upheld the ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Moore’s appeal.
The monument eventually was removed to a storage room on Aug. 27 on instructions from the eight associate justices.
Moore was suspended in August and charged with ethical breaches resulting from his refusals to obey the federal court order, but was still collecting his $170,000 annual salary, according to media reports.
During a one-day trial Wednesday, Moore told the panel that his decision to leave the monument in the courthouse was a moral and lawful acknowledgement of God.
When one panelist, Circuit Judge J. Scott Vowell, asked Moore what he would do with the monument if he were returned to office, the chief justice said he had not decided, but added: “I certainly wouldn’t leave it in a closet, shrouded from the public.”
The prosecutor, state Attorney General Bill Pryor, on Wednesday termed Moore’s defiance “utterly unrepentant behavior” that called for removal from office.
“This case presents an all-or-nothing proposition,” The New York Times quoted Pryor, who early in the dispute had backed Moore, as saying. “Either the chief justice is wrong and must be removed, or the chief justice is right and must be reinstated.”
A defiant Moore told supporters after the decision was handed down, “I have absolutely no regrets. I have done what I was sworn to do.”
“It’s about whether or not you can acknowledge God as a source of our law and our liberty. That’s all I’ve done. I’ve been found guilty,” he said.
Moore said he had consulted with his attorneys and with political and religious leaders and would make an announcement next week that “could alter the course of this country.” He did not explain what the announcement would entail. Moore could appeal the decision to the Alabama Supreme Court.
As a circuit court judge in the 1990s, Moore became known as the “Ten Commandments Judge,” after he was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for opening court sessions with prayer and for displaying a hand carved Ten Commandments display behind his bench.
He said Wednesday that when he ran for chief justice in 2000, his campaign was based on “restoring the moral foundation of law.”
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley issued a statement saying he was “disappointed and concerned that the federal courts continue to attempt to remove references to God and faith from public arenas. All of us must, however, respect the workings of our legal system and trust that it remains the best in the world.”
If the removal stands, Riley would appoint a new chief justice to finish Moore’s term, which ends in 2006.