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The chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court testified Thursday that he was not bound by rulings of the federal courts. Nonetheless, a federal judge ordered him to remove a Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama Judicial Building. Judge Myron H. Thompson of the U.S. District Court in Montgomery, Ala., gave Chief Justice Roy S. Moore 15 days to move the 5,280-pound granite monument from any public spot in the building. But a direct confrontation between Moore and the federal courts could be months away, as Thompson is considering staying his order pending Moore’s appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He said he would decide by Monday on whether to issue the stay. The case stems from a suit brought by three Alabama lawyers who claimed the monument violated their civil rights because its unabashed religious nature violated the First Amendment. Last month, Thompson ruled for the plaintiffs, holding that Moore’s stated purpose in installing the monument — to acknowledge the Judeo-Christian God as the moral foundation of the law — amounted to an unconstitutional state endorsement of religion. Thompson gave Moore 30 days to remove the monument voluntarily. Moore refused. At the beginning of Thursday’s 70-minute hearing, Thompson and lawyers for the plaintiffs acknowledged the chief justice had the right to ignore Thompson’s request — until now. “The plaintiffs also have rights,” said Danielle Lipow of the Southern Poverty Law Center, arguing that her clients were harmed every day the monument stood in the judicial building. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union also represent the plaintiffs. Thompson sounded frustrated by Moore’s intransigence on Thursday, at one point suggesting that under Moore’s theory, Thompson himself would not have to obey rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court. LONG HISTORY OF DEFIANCE Reminding Moore’s lawyers of the long history in which Montgomery federal judges had to order Alabama officials to follow federal law, Thompson also rejected Moore’s argument that Article VI of the U.S. Constitution binds state judges only to the U.S. Constitution — not federal courts. But Thompson nonetheless remained respectful of Moore and hopeful that the chief justice would obey his ruling. When Lipow accused Moore of mounting “a direct assault” on the principle that the United States is a nation of laws and not of men, Thompson said he wouldn’t go that far. “I’ll assume he’ll comply with the law,” Thompson said. For his part, Moore told reporters later that he would “pursue every legal remedy” to keep the monument he designed in the rotunda, where he placed it last year after being elected chief justice. Moore would not say whether he would put the monument in a private conference room or his chambers, as Thompson suggested, and he would not pledge to obey the order if it is upheld by the 11th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court. “The federal court does not have the authority,” Moore said, to order him to disavow the Judeo-Christian God, from whom he believes all man-made laws are derived. Removing the monument, he claimed, would, in effect, force him to disavow God and violate his oath of office, because the Alabama constitution recognizes God. Pointing to a fountain depicting the Greek goddess of justice Themis in front of the federal court building, Moore said, “Our system of justice does not come from a Greek mythological figure. “To say this can stay and does not offend anybody” — while the Ten Commandments monument must be removed — “is ridiculous,” Moore concluded. ARGUMENTS CALLED �BIZARRE’ J. Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center, called Moore’s court arguments “bizarre” because they varied so far from settled constitutional law, and “disheartening” because Moore is the highest judicial officer for the state of Alabama. Moore’s efforts as a state trial judge to display the Ten Commandments in his court room led to his ascendancy to the State Supreme Court. He won the 2000 race by running as the “Ten Commandments Judge.” Upon taking office, Moore began designing a Ten Commandments monument, unveiling it in August 2001 in the colonnaded rotunda of the judicial building. Occupying about 36 cubic feet, the monument is capped by two tablets that suggest an open Bible. Engraved on the tablets are the Ten Commandments as excerpted from Exodus in the King James Bible, starting with “I am the Lord thy God” and “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” On each side of the monument, Moore added 14 quotations, such as the motto on U.S. currency, “In God We Trust” and a reference in the Declaration of Independence to “Laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Testifying before Thompson on Thursday, Moore said, “I ran on the pledge to restore the moral foundation of law.” He added, “I can’t very well administer a justice system when I can’t recognize its source.” ‘BOUND TO THE CONSTITUTION’ Later, he said, “I’m bound to the Constitution, not this federal court.” Thompson asked whether Moore was bound by any federal court. “That remains to be seen,” Moore said, suggesting it depends on whether higher federal courts agree with his view of the case. Later, Thompson took on Moore’s Article VI argument, asking one of Moore’s lawyers, Herbert W. Titus, “What if the Supreme Court of the United States makes a decision I disagree with? … Can I just ignore the decision of the United States Supreme Court based on Article VI?” Titus, a deputized attorney general for the state of Alabama, suggested Thompson would have to recuse himself in that situation. He argued that routine reversals from higher courts don’t threaten Thompson with a contempt of court punishment, as Thompson’s injunction might affect Moore. Titus said higher courts could only order lower courts to perform ministerial acts — and not discretionary acts such as removing the monument. Thompson asked why Moore didn’t just order the building manager to remove the monument, but Titus responded that the building manager wasn’t a party to the suit. Thompson sounded incredulous. “I don’t know if you are familiar with the history of the Middle District of Alabama,” he told Titus, who is from Virginia Beach, Va. Legendary judges such as the late Frank M. Johnson Jr. — whom Thompson replaced in 1980 — enforced civil rights rulings throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, often ordering governors such as George Wallace to comply with federal rulings. Thompson asked, “Are you saying that none of those orders was valid under Article VI?” STAY PROPOSED After ordering Moore to remove the monument, Thompson said he was seriously considering granting a stay so that the parties would not spend unnecessary time litigating when to remove the monument and instead focus on the impending arguments at the 11th Circuit. “Don’t you think that would be a more orderly way?” to end the case, he asked Lipow. Lipow said she understood Thompson’s concerns, but she reminded him that her clients were suffering harm every time they had to go into the judicial building and that stays should only be granted when the side seeking the stay has a likely chance of winning on appeal. Thompson said he agreed his decision likely would be affirmed.

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