Virginia Supreme Court says Confederate statues can be removed

Virginia Supreme Court says Confederate statues can be removed

The Robert E. Lee statue has been the site of a white nationalist rally in 2017.

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Charlottesville can eliminate two statues of Confederate generals, which civil rights activists say paid homage to America's history of slavery and racism.

The figurines depict Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson and were the site of protests decrying police brutality and racism this summer.

The Robert E. Lee statue was also at the middle of a violent white nationalist"Unite the Right" rally in 2017 that left one woman dead.

In Thursday's decision, State Supreme Court Justice Bernard Goodwyn said both statues were built long before a 1997 state law barred local governments from removing monuments paying tribute to past wars.

He explained the law only applies to monuments erected after 1997.

The law"failed to provide the power for the City to erect the Statues, and it does not prohibit the City from disturbing or interfering with them," Goodwyn wrote.

In 2017, the City Council of Charlottesville approved resolutions to remove the statues and locals filed a complaint, alleging the removal was illegal.

A circuit court had barred the removal of monuments, citing a 1997 Virginia legislation which prevented the toppling of statues and memorials.

In the conclusion, the court affirmed the 2017 ruling of Attorney General Mark Herring, who contended the law"does not apply to any monument or memorial erected on any property within an independent city before 1997."

"I've worked hard to assist remove poisonous Confederate propaganda from our publicly-owned spaces, since I believe it glorifies a false history and sends a harmful and divisive message concerning who and what we value," Herring said. "This job will continue, and I look forward to making our case for the removal of this state-owned Robert E. Lee statue prior to the Supreme Court of Virginia summer time."

The Charlottesville City Council praised the decision in a statement Thursday, saying it plans to redesign the parks"in a way that promotes recovery which tells a more complete record of Charlottesville."

"This is an important case for the Charlottesville community and the rest of the Commonwealth," said Charlottesville City Manager Chip Boyles. "The City was very fortunate to possess Acting City Attorney Lisa Robertson representing the interests of our community. She has worked extensively over the past four years and I'm thrilled she's won all of us this success in the maximum court in Virginia."

According to The Associated Press, the 1997 law that prevented local authorities from removing Confederate statues was repealed in 2020 later Democrats gained control of the General Assembly.

Several other Virginia cities have made similar moves to remove Confederate statues. In Richmond, officials removed many controversial monuments on Monument Avenue. The website was a place for racial justice protests within the past year.

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