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The end of the calendar year always brings with it the obligatory lists of the highest verdicts, most prominent lawyers, stupidest criminals and most offbeat judges. Let’s end 2003 with a new list: profiles in judicial courage. John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage described the experiences of eight senators. Each confronted a situation in which his sense of ethics and duty ran counter to political expedience-and each took the honorable path, sometimes with dire personal consequences. My nominees for the judicial version of that list: the eight remaining members of the Alabama Supreme Court. Unless you practice in Alabama, you probably do not know their names or their faces. Unless you practice in a cave, you know about their former colleague, Roy Moore. Former Chief Justice Moore won election to Alabama’s highest court largely because he was the county judge who defiantly posted the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. He apparently decided after his statewide election that a larger jurisdiction required a larger Decalogue. Late one night, Moore and his supporters moved a 5,000-pound monument to the Ten Commandments into the Alabama judicial building. Making a federal case of it Some local lawyers brought suit in the federal district court. The district judge did not have to reach far to see that, as between the Ten Commandments and the Bill of Rights, Moore’s monument didn’t make it past even the First Amendment. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered Moore to remove his monument from public display. Moore refused to do it. Thompson apparently decided to put off any confrontation with Moore until after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considered the case; the appellate court affirmed the order requiring that the monument be removed, and eloquently reminded Moore of his duty to obey the federal courts’ instruction. The admonition fell on deaf ears. Moore refused to obey, and instead set up a confrontation that perhaps he had wanted all along. When Moore missed Thompson’s deadline for moving the monument, monetary sanctions imposed by the federal order began accruing against the state of Alabama. The remaining members of the Alabama Supreme Court stepped in and ordered the monument moved. Did those eight justices agree with the federal order? I have no idea. It does not matter. What matters is that they knew their duty, and they performed it. Theirs was a courageous decision. Judges in Alabama are elected. Most polls say that a significant majority of Alabamans disagreed with the federal court’s order and wanted the monument to stay (as do a significant number of people nationwide). But those eight Alabama jurists knew that adherence to their constitutional oaths meant bringing Alabama into compliance with the federal court order. Unusual bravery Perhaps I’m a cynic, but I suspect at least some elected judges in that position would have stepped back and passively allowed events between Moore and Thompson to unfold. For the eight Alabama justices, that would most certainly have been the politically safe route. The events of this past summer stand in sharp contrast to those of an Alabama summer 40 years ago. Then, another state official-Governor George Wallace-defied a federal order when he physically blocked the enrollment of black students at the University of Alabama. Only a confrontation with U.S. marshals ended that standoff. The Alabama justices’ quiet directive in August of this year demonstrates forcefully how things have changed. The runners-up for the profiles in judicial courage award not coincidentally are also Alabamans: the nine members of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary who, last month, unanimously removed Moore from office. Many of the members of the Court of the Judiciary are also elected judges whose votes on Moore may echo in their next campaigns. But I’ll still cast my vote for the justices who stepped up first and most courageously: J. Gorman Houston Jr., Harold F. See, Champ Lyons Jr., Jean Williams Brown, Douglas Inge Johnstone, Robert Bernard Harwood Jr., Thomas A. Woodall and Lyn Stuart. They did what judges are supposed to do, even though it might cost them socially, politically and professionally. David R. Fine is a partner at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart in the firm’s Harrisburg, Pa., office.

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