Thou shalt not: Moore broke the rules

In July 2001, now-suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore placed a Ten Commandments monument in the state’s judicial building. A court ordered Moore to remove the monument, which he refused to do. The judicial ethics committee then suspended him pending an inquiry. These events recently received much attention and will come up again. Moore and his supporters have valid legal arguments relating to the First Amendment and federalist principles, and the Supreme Court might hear them. Many commentators assert that Moore’s conduct related to the lawsuit is improper for a judge. While their analysis is generally correct, their lack of precision causes them to miss the true point: Moore’s actions are civil disobedience.

Moore argues he is following his oath of office by upholding the Constitution. This is patently false. The U.S. judicial system, created by Congress under Article III of the Constitution, gives the federal courts jurisdiction in constitutional matters. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 5,300-pound monument violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause by promoting Judeo-Christian beliefs in a state building not designated for such activity.

When he chose to disobey the court’s order, Moore broke his oath of office and failed to uphold the Constitution. 

Civil disobedience occurs when someone intentionally breaks a law to protest that law. Moore should call his actions what they are. Civil disobedience is a valuable part of democracy, though such deeds often carry legal penalties. When people break the law to draw attention to their cause, without harming anyone else, this frequently moves public discourse forward. The problem arises when a chief justice, the state’s highest legal authority, uses his office to commit acts clearly contrary to both his oath of office and judicial ethics.

If this is how Moore feels he can best serve his country, or simply how he wants to spend his time, he should pursue his cause independently and resign.