About Those Judges Joining Roy Moore in His Rebel Yell

Nobody familiar with Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore was the least bit surprised by his defiance of both federal district court and U.S. Supreme Court directives that Alabama begin licensing same-sex marriages. The man’s made an entire career out of such gestures, based not only on early nineteenth-century notions of state’s rights but on even older (yet evergreen) theocratic principles.

But it might be more surprising that a majority of probate judges in Alabama are at least temporarily going along with Moore’s rebel yell, either refusing to license applicants for same-sex marriages or even closing their doors yesterday, per a report from WaPo’s Sandhya Somashekhar:

On the day that same-sex unions became legal in Alabama, local officials in dozens of counties on Monday defied a federal judge’s decision and refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, casting the state into judicial chaos.

Gay couples were able to get licenses in about a dozen places, including Birmingham, Huntsville and a few other counties where probate judges complied with the judge’s decision. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled early Monday that it would deny Alabama’s request to put the marriages on hold.

But in the majority of counties, officials said they would refuse to license same-sex marriages or stop providing licenses altogether, confronting couples — gay and heterosexual — with locked doors and shuttered windows.

What’s up with these probate judges? Are their law school professors hanging their heads in shame at this rather blatant defiance of the Supremacy Clause?

Well, that’s hard to say because Alabama does not require probate judges to have any sort of legal education (that’s true in my home state of Georgia as well). It’s also one of thirteen states where probate judges are elected in partisan primaries and general elections. I cannot find a current breakdown of the partisan composition of Alabama’s probate judiciary, but given the overall political complexion of the state it’s a good bet a majority are Republicans. With the state’s Republican governor and most famous Republican jurist calling for defiance of the feds (though Gov. Robert Bentley has made it clear he won’t punish any judge that differs with him on this), what would you guess they’d do? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.