Alabama Probate Judges Get Remedial Legal Education

Alabama Probate Judges Get Remedial Legal Education On January 23rd Federal District Judge Callie Granade struck down two Alabama state laws banning same-sex marriage. On February 8th Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered state probate judges to ignore the Federal court ruling. On February 9th the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay the District Court’s decision. On February 12th Judge Granade ordered the Mobile County Probate Judge to issue licenses to same-sex couples, and he complied. But while judges in 23 Alabama counties were issuing licenses to all couples, those in 18 counties were only licencing straight couples and 26 counties weren’t issuing any licenses at all. What gives?

Politics and legal illiteracy. Alabama Chief Justice is an elected office, and Roy Moore is a politician. When first elected he installed a 5,280-pound Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama State Judicial Building despite the First Amendment, was removed from office by a judicial ethics panel for defying a Federal court order to remove the monument and, in Alabama, that got him re-elected. He’s standing in the courthouse door to prevent same-sex marriage because he ran for Governor in 2010, lost in the GOP Primary, and wants to run again.

Why do so many Probate Judges listen to Judge Moore when the Supremacy Clause clearly says Federal law trumps state law? As Ed Kilgore observes: “Alabama does not require probate judges to have any sort of legal education….”

Judge Moore argues that states have the right to define marriage within their boundaries, Equal Protection Clause be damned.  We’ve heard this before, points out German Lopez, back when Alabama and 15 other states prohibited interracial marriage. Bear this in mind, though: although the Supreme Court outlawed “anti-miscegenation” laws in 1967,  Alabama stubbornly held out until 33 years later.

In this case, it seems that legal education works. As of Friday afternoon, probate judges in 50 of Alabama’s 67 counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.


“Judge tangled up over tying the knot,” Monica Hesse, Washington Post

“KKK issues ‘call to arms’ over Alabama same-sex marriage ruling,” Keegan Hankes, Southern Poverty Law Center via Salon


“John Oliver digs into the “horrifying spectacle” of judicial elections,” Sarah Gray, Salon

“Soliciting Campaign Cash Threatens the Integrity of the Courts,” Alicia Bannon, Moyers & Company


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Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht,

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