Alabama is back, represented by Roy Moore, the Chief Justice of its Supreme Court and by the W.F. Burns Middle School in Valley, Alabama. Roy comes first.
In 2000 Roy was campaigning to become the Chief Justice. That was the year the Vermont legislature passed legislation approving gay unions. Campaigning a few days before the Alabama June primary election was to take place, Judge Moore commented on the Vermont law saying the next logical step was for a law to be passed that would allow unions between “two men and four women” or between “a sheep and a man.” He was, of course, speaking in jest. Musing further he said: “Let me ask you this. Are you going to pay your tax money to support a man and a sheep on welfare? Hmmmm?” Judge Moore won the primary and then the general election and became the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. As Chief Justice he had other opportunities to express himself on the virtues of heterosexuality. In a custody battle involving a lesbian mother he said that homosexuality is “abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Homosexuals, he went on, are “presumptively unfit to have custody of minor children.”
While serving as Chief Justice, Roy commissioned a 5,280-pound granite monument of the Ten Commandments and had it installed in the central rotunda of the State Judicial Building. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court ruling ordering removal of the monument and when the Chief Justice refused, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary removed Roy from office and the monument was removed from the rotunda. The monument is still gone. Elected again in 2012, Roy Moore is again serving as Chief Justice and is again asserting himself in opposition to a federal court.
In late January 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Callie V. Granade ordered Alabama probate judges to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, a ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to postpone. Accordingly, probate judges were required by the federal court order to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Chief Justice Moore ordered the probate judges to ignore the federal court’s order and to decline to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. As of this writing 51 probate judges have elected to follow the federal court’s order and 17 others have elected to follow Roy’s order. On February 13, 2015, the Alabama Supreme Court, by a 6-2 ruling, acted on an emergency petition filed by the Liberty Counsel and two other groups opposed to same-sex marriage. It ordered probate judges who were issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples to respond to the Liberty Counsel’s petition that seeks an order telling probate judges to cease and desist their issuance of marriage licenses to same sex couples. The Alabama Supreme Court’s response suggests that six members of the Alabama Supreme Court believe the state judges have the right to ignore orders from a federal court. All briefs will have been filed by February 20 and the Alabama Supreme Court should have the opportunity to issue an opinion shortly thereafter. No one is taking any bets on the outcome.
Meanwhile, out in the country the W.F. Burns Middle School in Valley, Alabama, is in the news. W.F. Burns is, for good reason, concerned about the safety of its students. Unlike many schools that have promoted the idea that teachers should be permitted to carry firearms into the classroom in order to shoot possible assailants, W. F. Burns has decided to implement an idea for school safety already used in some other school districts hoping to enhance student safety.
School officials sent a letter home to all parents asking that they give their children canned goods to bring to school. The canned goods are not for eating (although they’ll be given to the needy at the end of the school year) but are instead an enhancement to procedures already in place to deal with intruders. According to the letter sent to parents: “The procedure will be the same as we have done in the past with the addition of arming our students with a canned food item. We realize at first this may seem odd, however, it is a practice that would catch an intruder off-guard. The canned food item could stun the intruder or even knock him out until the police arrive. The canned food item will give the students a sense of empowerment to protect themselves and will make them feel secure in case an intruder enters their classroom. . . . We hope the canned food items will never be used or needed, but it is best to be prepared.”
There is a certain symmetry to the Alabama Supreme Court’s action and the school’s action. Throwing a can of peas at an intruder armed with an automatic weapon makes as much sense as the Alabama Supreme Court trying to decide whether a federal court’s orders have to be followed by state judges. The introduction of canned peas into the classroom, however, does no damage to the rule of law in Alabama. That is more than can be said for the Alabama Supreme Court’s actions.
Christopher Brauchli is an attorney in Boulder, Colorado. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.