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Ten Commandments judge removed from office

Moore listens as the ruling removing him from office is read Thursday.
Moore listens as the ruling removing him from office is read Thursday.

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Chief Justice William Thompson reads the verdict against Roy Moore.
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Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore reacts to being removed from office.
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Roy Moore
Justice and Rights

MONTGOMERY, Alabama (CNN) -- Alabama's judicial ethics panel removed Chief Justice Roy Moore from office Thursday for defying a federal judge's order to move a Ten Commandments monument from the state Supreme Court building.

The nine-member Court of the Judiciary issued its unanimous decision after a one-day trial Wednesday.

The panel, which includes judges, lawyers and non-lawyers, could have reprimanded Moore, continued his suspension or cleared him.

The ethics panel said Moore put himself above the law by "willfully and publicly" flouting the order to remove the 2.6-ton monument from the state judicial building's rotunda in August.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled the granite carving was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. Moore refused to obey the order but was overruled by his eight colleagues on the state Supreme Court. (Full story)

On November 3, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Moore's appeal of Thompson's ruling. (Full story)

Moore "showed no signs of contrition for his actions," the Court of the Judiciary found.

Moore's critics said they were not yet satisfied.

Richard Cohen, a lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center -- one of the groups that sued Moore over the monument -- said the organization would seek to have Moore disbarred.

Moore not surprised

After the ruling, Moore said he was not surprised by the decision and that he was being removed from office because he "acknowledged God."

Moore read comments by Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor in 1997 that defended his display of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom when he was a state circuit court judge.

Pryor filed the ethics charges after Moore refused to remove the monument.

"God has chosen this time and this place so we can save our country and save our courts for our children," Moore said.

President Bush has nominated Pryor to a seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Senate Democrats are trying to block the nomination by filibuster.

Pryor, a Republican, has said he believes the Ten Commandments display was constitutional, but he said Thursday federal court orders must be obeyed.

"At the end of the day, when the courts resolve those controversies, we respect their decision," he said. "That does not mean that we always agree with their decision."

On Wednesday, prosecutors showed the ethics panel documents and videotapes they said proved Moore defied a lawful court order in violation of his oath of office. They rested their case after 25 minutes.

Moore wanted a televised trial in a larger room and said the proceedings amounted to a closed hearing.

After Thursday's decision, he criticized the court for not opening the hearing and suggested Pryor changed his position on the issue for political gain.

First Amendment debate

Moore's case has become a magnet for religious conservatives around the country.

Only one in five Americans approved of the federal court order to remove the monument, according to an August poll from CNN-USA Today-Gallup.

The poll found 77 percent of the 1,009 Americans interviewed disapproved of Thompson's order to remove the monument.

Moore and his supporters contend the Ten Commandments are the foundation of the U.S. legal system and that forbidding the acknowledgment of the Judeo-Christian God violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free exercise of religion. (Moore interview with CNN)

But a lawsuit filed after the monument was put in place in 2001 argued that the massive stone marker constituted a government endorsement of Christianity.

The First Amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ... ."

With Thompson threatening to fine the state $5,000 a day for defying his order, Pryor and Gov. Bob Riley refused to support Moore.

Like Pryor, Riley is a Republican and self-professed conservative Christians who supported the monument's installation, but he said Moore was bound to obey Thompson's order.

Moore was suspended by the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which charged him with six ethics violations for refusing the order.

In the late 1990s, Moore was a circuit judge in northeast Alabama when he fought a lawsuit seeking to remove a wooden plaque depicting the commandments from his courtroom.

The legal battle propelled him to statewide office in 2000, when the Republican was elected chief justice after campaigning as the "Ten Commandments Judge."

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