Roy Moore is only one of the worst judges out there.
Wacky congressman and eccentric state legislators may get most of the Internet ink for the outlandish things they say and do, but judges hold just as much power over the laws of the land, and some of them can out-crazy their colleagues in the legislative chamber. Whether it’s dabbling in birtherism, dreaming up ultra-cruel punishment methods, or simply making good on years of extreme anti-abortion activism, here are the worst uses of the judicial branch out there.
1. Roy Moore: Where to begin with Roy Moore? Arguably the most infamous right-wing jurist in the country, former and current Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore came into prominence during his fight over the Ten Commandments monument he wanted to display in the state Supreme Court.
Moore got his start by invoking Christianity in his courtroom and defying higher court orders, so it’s no surprise he did both in 2003, refusing to remove the monument even after a federal judge ordered him to. A nine-judge judicial ethics panel vacated his seat. Moore ran unsuccessfully for governor of Alabama twice, but somehow managed to get reelected to his old seat in 2012, where he’s been wreaking havoc ever since.
Two weeks ago, a federal appeals court (headed by a Bush appointee) struck down Alabama’s gay marriage ban and rejected the state’s request for a stay. When the Supreme Court declined to intervene, same-sex marriage became the law of the land. In his trademark style, Moore declared he would ignore the ruling and challenged Alabama’s officials to do the same. On Sunday, he told probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “I’m telling you in my opinion right now, in the opinion of anybody that’s got any knowledge of the Constitution, there’s nothing in the Constitution that allows the United States Supreme Court or federal district courts to redefine marriage,” he said.
This is one of Moore’s more mainstream beliefs. Moore has called homosexuality an “abomination,” claimed evolution has “distorted our way of thinking” while calling for creationism to be taught in schools, and railed against Muslims, stating, “They didn’t bring the Quran over on the Pilgrim ship, the Mayflower.”
2. Tom Parker: Alabama judge and Moore protégé Tom Parker has spent the last few years giving Moore a run for his money by, among other things, comparing the judge who overturned Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to Al-Qaeda. “Most people believe that Al-Qaeda is one of America’s biggest security threats,” Parker said in a campaign ad. “I think it’s time to add liberal activist judges like Judge Phillips to that list.”
Frequently spotted with conservative hate group leaders, Parker also entertains doubts about President Barack Obama’s country of origin. While ruling against a challenge to Obama’s appearance on the Alabama ballot in 2008 (not because he thought the challenge ridiculous, but simply because he believed the Alabama court a poor venue for the charge) Parker dissented from the majority, saying the information presented was “sufficient to raise a duty to investigate the qualifications of President Barack Hussein Obama before including him as a candidate on Alabama’s election ballot.”
Most frighteningly, Parker is a major figure in the so-called personhood movement. He has ruled continuously that unborn children count as persons under the Alabama constitution, the main rhetorical maneuver by which the personhood movement seeks to undermine Roe v. Wade.
On the bright side he renders few opinions, and those he does write take forever. That, apparently, is California’s fault: when Parker was investigated for a second time for ethics violations, he blamed an ACLU agenda. “It’s just another shot in the war to force political correctness on all Alabamians and turn us into another San Francisco,” Parker said.
3. Priscilla Owen: Priscilla Owen fulfilled all manner of conservative dreams when she and two other female justices reversed a lower court’s ruling and upheld a Texas law that shuttered a third of its abortion clinics.
This was no accident. Owen was nominated to the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals by then-President George Bush, who knew her from her days as a Texas Supreme Court justice. Her appointment was hotly contested, and it’s no wonder: Owen was so conservative that even Bush’s Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez was taken aback, calling one of her abortion decisions “unconscionable…judicial activism.”
The New York Times editorial board, in a piece imploring the Senate not to confirm her, said she “reflexively favors manufacturers over consumers, employers over workers and insurers over sick people.” They added that her abortion rulings were tantamount to denying women the right to choose, and cited her “willingness to ignore the text and intent of laws that stand in her way” and “disturbing lack of sensitivity to judicial ethics.”
But her anti-choice record preceded her. She’s struck down abortion clinic buffer zones, and in 2000 she ruled in favor of requiring stricter parental notification for minors obtaining abortions, reasoning that young women needed to be informed of the “religious arguments” against the procedure—“the only known instance of a state supreme court justice trying to create a ‘religious awareness’ standard” for abortion.
So Owen was perfectly situated when a lower court’s ruling overturning the Texas legislature’s stringent abortion legislation reached her desk. The District Court in Austin had dismissed the argument that mandating doctors at abortion clinics have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals was a necessary safety measure. Owen rejected this ruling, writing that “the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate it.” The actual effect was to close at least one-third of the state’s clinics. That was the point of the bill along, and recognizing it was the goal of Owen’s appointment.
4. Janice Rodgers Brown: California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rodgers Brown was the only dissenting vote when the California judiciary upheld a proto-ACA-style mandate on employer-provided insurance. That turned out to be Brown’s rehearsal: nine years later she was one of the two deciding votes on the DC Circuit to rule that business owners could opt out of contraception provisions based on religious objections, an early run for the Hobby Lobby case which enshrined that into law. (Brown’s decision came just days after Owen’s.)
“The burden on religious exercise does not occur at the point of contraceptive purchase,” Brown wrote. “Instead, it occurs when a company’s owners fill the basket of goods and services that constitute a healthcare plan.” The ruling, critics pointed out, was Citizens United-esque in its personification of corporations.
Democrats had tried to block then-President George Bush’s appointment of Brown to the bench, citing such comments as calling the New Deal a socialist revolution, but were stymied by the GOP-controlled Senate.
5. Gary Kreep: Next time you plead a case before a judge, keep in mind that your rational arguments may be submitted to someone who doesn’t believe Barack Obama was born in the United States.
Gary Kreep, a conservative activist who challenged Obama’s citizenship, was elected to California Superior Court in San Diego in 2012. He is also known to the Southern Poverty Law Center as the founder of the United States Justice Foundation, an anti-Muslim group that warns against creeping Sharia law. Before he took the bench, the San Diego Bar association publicly called Kreep unqualified; he in turn called them bigoted against Christians.
His antics bothered the city attorneys so much they boycotted his courtroom, eventually getting him reassigned to Kearny Mesa traffic court a year later. Superior Court justices are highly paid officials, and it is uncommon to see them judging traffic violations. Kreep was moved to landlord/tenant disputes a few months later.
6. William Pryor: The award for the most crazy, mean-spirited, right-wing judges has to go to Alabama. Rounding out their selections, William Pryor, a social conservative who’s risen quickly in the judicial ranks despite his wild-west defense of the state of Alabama’s practice of handcuffing prisoners to a hitching post.
Pryor attempted to argue in 2000 that the practice, in which inmates were denied water and restroom access for hours on end, was “a cost-effective, safe and relatively pain-free way to impel inmates to work.” This course of reasoning didn’t go over so well with the Supreme Court, which pointed out the “obvious cruelty inherent in the practice” and termed it “antithetical to human dignity.” (In a cruel irony, Pryor has since been appointed by Obama to the United States Sentencing Commission.)
Pryor in turn called the decision an “awful ruling that preserved the worst example of judicial activism.” The next time he wants bad examples of judicial activism, handcuff him to a post and read him this list.