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Justice's attorney: Commandments fight not over

Attorney Herb Titus
Attorney Herb Titus

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The Ten Commandments monument is removed from the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery.
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(CNN) -- The Ten Commandments monument is out of sight in the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery, but the battle over the 2.6-ton granite slab remains highly visible.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore installed the monument in 2001 and was suspended last week after defying a federal court order to remove it from the judicial building's rotunda. Workers moved it from public view Wednesday, but Moore and his supporters have vowed to continue their fight, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Moore's attorney, Herb Titus, spoke Thursday with CNN Anchor Soledad O'Brien about his client's cause. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

O'BRIEN: Judge Moore, did he watch the removal of the monument? What was his reaction?

TITUS: I don't know if he was there, Soledad. I have not talked with him with regard to that move, so I don't know, really.

O'BRIEN: He released a written statement, and he said: "It is a sad day for our country when the moral foundation of our law and the acknowledgment of God has to be hidden from public view to appease a federal judge."

Is there any sort of small victory here in that the monument wasn't removed wholly from the building but was put into a backroom, do you think?

TITUS: Well, that was in the court's order that it could be moved within the building, as long as it was removed to a nonpublic place. So the judge had anticipated that such a move would be appropriate, especially since all appeals have not taken place. After all, this monument, if the United States Supreme Court agrees with us, will be moved back.

O'BRIEN: So, in the short term, will it stay in the building until your arguments before the Supreme Court take place?

TITUS: Well, I don't know for sure if it will stay in the building, but certainly that would be the appropriate thing to do, since that's consistent with the trial judge's order.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about the status of Judge Moore. He was suspended, at least temporarily. He's got 30 days, I think, to answer these six ethics violations that he has been charged with. Give me a sense of what his plan is and what your plan is, as his attorney, moving forward, and how he's doing in regard to those charges.

TITUS: Well, Soledad, as you know, former Associate Alabama Supreme Court Justice Terry Butts is handling that matter for Chief Justice Moore. Under state law, when a complaint is filed by the Judiciary Inquiry Commission before the Court of the Judiciary, he's automatically disqualified from acting as a judge. So former Associate Justice Terry Butts is handling that aspect of the case.

In the meantime, we're pressing ahead with our petition for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. We also have pending our writ with regard to a writ of mandamus and prohibition. So we're pressing forward in the federal court in order to vindicate Chief Justice Moore's position.

O'BRIEN: You're getting into a little legalese for me. What's a writ of certiorari?

TITUS: A writ of certiorari is a petition for review. That's the normal process by which matters such as these come before the United States Supreme Court. It's a petition to the court requesting that they take the case. They make a decision as to whether or not they will take the case. It's a matter of discretion with them.

O'BRIEN: What do you think the likelihood is that the Supreme Court will, in fact, agree to hear your case?

TITUS: Well, it's hard to predict. We don't know exactly how this case will come before the Supreme Court. Recently, they have not granted petitions for review in Ten Commandments cases, but we think this is an extraordinary case. We think that the issues are very important for the nation, and we're hopeful that the Supreme Court will finally take cases of this kind and render a decision on the merits.

O'BRIEN: If indeed the Supreme Court does hear your case, when would that happen, when would you expect?

TITUS: Well, it's hard to predict. The petition for review is due in late September. Usually, there is a 30-day period in which the opposition has an opportunity to respond to the petition, and then it comes before the justices for deliberation as to whether or not they will take the case.

O'BRIEN: A new poll from CNN and USA Today, and Gallup as well, 77 percent, in a nutshell, are against the federal court order to remove the monument. Do you feel that this is a strong vote from the American public, and that might actually pressure the Supreme Court into hearing your case?

TITUS: Well, the American people understand what the Constitution means better than federal judges do. Federal judges are so wrapped up in precedent that they have forgotten what the plain words of the Constitution are. The people of the United States understand that the First Amendment does not prohibit putting up a monument in a building, putting up a picture. They understand that that's not a law within the meaning of the First Amendment.

So, what you have here is common sense. Ordinary people understand that this is contrary to the Constitution, this ruling by the federal court. And I would hope that the judges on the Supreme Court would adopt that common-sense view.


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