(Falls Church) Virginia’s highest court ruled on Thursday that the city of Charlottesville can remove two statues of Confederate generals, including the statue of Robert E. Lee who was in the middle of a violent white supremacist gathering in 2017.
The state Supreme Court overturned a circuit court ruling in favor of a group of residents who sued to prevent the city from removing a Lee statue and another statue near General Thomas J. Stonewall, Jackson. Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the statues.
White supremacist and neo-Nazi organizers said at the August 2017 “Uniting the Right” rally in Charlottesville that they had traveled to town to defend the preservation of a statue of Lee. They clashed with counter-demonstrators before a man drove into a crowd and killed a woman.
The Jackson statue was erected in Jackson Park in 1921 and a statue of Lee was erected in Lee Park in 1924. In 1918, the city accepted a resident’s offer to donate land for the statues.
City officials welcomed the move in a statement Thursday and said they intend to redevelop the park spaces where the statues are “in a way that promotes healing and tells the full story of Charlottesville.”
Nicoya Walker, Mayor of Charlottesville, thanked the community for “their perseverance over the past five years.” “For all of us who were on the right side of history, well done!” She said.
In Thursday’s ruling, state Supreme Court Justice Bernard Goodwin said the statues were erected long before the 1997 state law banned local governments from removing them.
He wrote that the law should not be applied retrospectively; Those who sought to keep the statues in place have argued that the clear intention of the legislature is to do so.
Mr. Goodwin wrote that the 1997 law “did not grant the city the authority to erect statues, nor did it prevent the city from disposing of them.”
Braxton Poirier, one of the residents’ attorneys who filed the lawsuit, said he had not yet read the decision and could not comment immediately. Frederick W. Payne, a Charlottesville attorney who was on the top plaintiffs list, also declined to comment on Thursday.
Richard Schrager, a law professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in the intersection of constitutional law and local government law, said he expects Thursday’s ruling to be the last word on the long-running case. Because he does not see any basis for challenging under federal law law.
A 1997 law prohibiting local governments from removing Confederate figure statues in 2020 was repealed after Democrats took control of the General Assembly in the 2019 elections. Since then, local governments across the state have removed statues that have existed for a century or more. .
The 2020 law imposes certain requirements on local governments seeking to remove the statue, such as holding a public hearing and displaying the statue to a museum or historical association for possible relocation. In Thursday’s ruling, the judges indicated in a footnote that they were making their decision based on the old law.