You’ve probably heard that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore says that even though federal courts have ruled against the state’s marriage ban, he doesn’t have to obey their ruling. Is he correct? Well, not exactly. In fact, not at all.
Moore sounds awfully confident about his assertion that he can pick and choose which rulings to follow. But just think about what he’s saying for a moment — if state officials could just say “eh, I don’t like that ruling, I don’t think I’ll follow it,” then there wouldn’t be much point in having a federal court system, would there? The Constitution is clear: federal rulings are the law of the land, whether they come from the Supreme Court or one of their courts below the Supreme Court.
The best claim that Moore can make is that only the Supreme Court can boss him around, and that federal District Courts and Appeals Courts have no authority. This is equivalent to being given an assignment by your boss at work, and then saying “well I’m not going to do that unless the CEO tells me to.” You’d get fired, which if we’re lucky will be exactly what happens to Moore. Again. (He’s already been fired once for doing this, but voters reinstated him.)
It can’t be pointed out enough that this is exactly what segregationists tried to do in the 1950s. When federal courts ordered southern states to stop sorting children by race, a lot of state officials just said “no” and tried to claim that they could “nullify” federal rulings if they wanted to. Well, guess what — they can’t. Sorry, bigots. It didn’t work in the ‘50s, and it’s not going to work today.
But you know what might work? Sally Kern’s loathsome new law that would protect ex-gay predators. Instead of trying to fight marriage equality in court, she’s instead proposed a bill that would prevent the state from shutting down abusive ex-gay torture camps. We all know that “ex-gay” is not a real thing — it’s condemned by every real medical organization in the country, it causes significant harm, and a lot of the guys running “ex-gay” practices have been accused of (and sometimes convicted of) sexual assault. Kern’s bill would perpetuate that cycle of abuse, and unlike Moore’s imaginary legal theories, her bill might actually be able to pass constitutional muster.