The Week in Confederate Heritage

Confederate heritage continued its nationwide retreat this week, albeit at a slower pace than previously.

We start with this article from Amarillo, Texas. It tells us, “The statue of the Confederate Soldier was at Ellwood Park for about 90 years until today. Some Amarillo groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Daughters of the Confederacy and the Order of Confederate Rose all gathered at the park today to honor the statue. ‘We finally found a place where he will be protected and in a place of honor, which is what he deserves,’ said Mike Moore, commander, Sons of the Confederate Veterans Camp. The City Council approved Sons of Confederate Veterans and Daughters of the Confederacy to relocate the statue late last year. Members from the groups say it is to ensure its protection from being destroyed, as it has a history of being vandalized in the past. … They’ve decided to relocate it on private property somewhere in Shamrock.”

Charlottesville’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is seen covered in red paint in June 2020. ERIN EDGERTON/THE DAILY PROGRESS

We next move to the Old Dominion, where, as this article tells us, the Virginia Supreme Court gave the green light for Charlottesville to remove the statue of former U.S. Army Colonel turned traitor Robert E. Lee and former U.S. Army brevet Major turned traitor Thomas J. Jackson. We learn, “The Supreme Court on Thursday said a law preventing the removal of war monuments does not apply to Charlottesville’s statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. The ruling was handed down in Charlottesville’s appeal of a lower court ruling, with the state’s highest court saying in part that a previous law preventing the removal of war monuments does not apply to statues built before 1997. Released Thursday morning, the opinion signals the end of a years long legal battle to remove two Confederate statues in Downtown Charlottesville that in its wake saw a deadly rally, legislative change and the removal of dozens statues across the country. The initial lawsuit was spurred by a Charlottesville City Council vote to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which later was expanded to include a separate statue of Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. Several area residents and The Monument Fund group sued the city and the City Council, alleging the votes violated a state code section that forbade localities from encroaching on war monuments and memorials. The lawsuit went to trial in September 2019, with Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Moore largely siding with the plaintiffs, ruling that the council votes violated the law. Moore issued a permanent injunction barring the city from removing the statues.”

The article continues, “The lawsuit was subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which heard the case in November. Meanwhile, a legislative change that allowed for localities to remove monuments to wars and veterans was passed during the 2020 General Assembly session and many statues across the Commonwealth were removed. In its 12-page opinion, the Supreme Court of Virginia focused largely on an issue dismissed early on in circuit court that focuses on a 1997 update to the code section. This update modified language in the code to specifically prevent cities from removing war monuments, something that prior to the update had not been included. Using a ‘plain language analysis’ of the update, the Supreme Court wrote that the code section indicated that the language only applied to prospective statues erected after 1997. The Charlottesville Circuit Court erred in inferring intent from the General Assembly that was not evidenced by the words used, the ruling reads. ‘The judiciary is not to substitute its own judgment in place of the General Assembly’s; rather than inferring the intent of legislation, our role is to ascertain the intent of the General Assembly as evidenced by the words used by it,’ the opinion reads. Both the Lee and Jackson statues were erected before there was a statue which authorized a city to erect war monuments and memorials or which regulated their disturbance or interference, the Supreme Court wrote.”

In concluding, the article says, ” ‘The Lee Statue and the Jackson Statue were not erected pursuant to Code § 15.2-1812 and so, the prohibitions against disturbing or interfering with monuments or memorials erected pursuant to Code § 15.2-1812 do not apply to the Statues,’ the opinion reads. ‘In other words, Code § 15.2-1812 did not provide the authority for the City to erect the Statues, and it does not prohibit the City from disturbing or interfering with them.’ The Supreme Court acknowledged the case as an issue of first impression, and acknowledged ‘the thought and care with which the circuit court considered this matter,’ before it wrote that the Charlottesville Circuit Court’s interpretation of the state code was ‘unpersuasive, and in contradiction of the actual words used in Code § 15.2-1812.’ Because the circuit court was found to be in error, the declaratory judgment order, injunction preventing the statues’ removal, damages order, final order, and all relief granted to the plaintiffs — including $364,989.60 — by the circuit court was vacated.”

In this article on the same subject, we learn, “With the fight in the court settled, the city can finally focus on what comes next. As the dust settles, that road forward is not immediately clear. ‘Their intent is to remove the statues,’ Charlottesville Spokesperson Brian Wheeler said. ‘You know, as quickly as possible, but to make sure that we are following a process that’s going to keep us out of court in the future.’ The General Assembly laid the groundwork for localities to remove their statues in the 2020 session. That process includes a three-month waiting period to offer the statues to museums or battlefields that want them and periods for public comment. However, that revised statute may not even apply to Charlottesville, because of this ruling. The statues could come down quickly, according to University of Virginia Law School professor Richard Schragger. ‘The logic of the opinion suggests they could possibly remove them immediately, without going through the the various processes that the revised statute provides,’ Schragger explained. The activists that fought for this day are clear: the process of taking them down, and what comes next, must be a community decision. ‘We’re, you know, finally exorcising the ‘Lost Cause,’ narrative here,’ UVA Professor Jalane Schmidt said. ‘We’re still going to tell the story about this, we’re not going to, you know, quote, unquote, forget history.’ Legally, this is likely the end of the statues case, Schragger says. There’s no federal question to be resolved, and the U.S. Supreme Court would be unlikely to take it up.”

This clears the way for the city to remove those two symbols of treason against the United States and white supremacy.

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