This past Thursday, the Supreme Court of Virginia put forth its ruling that the state will be allowed to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
The Washington Post has reported that the statue is going to be taken down where it stands on Monument Avenue in Richmond. “In unanimous rulings in two separate cases, the justices affirmed the power of Gov. Ralph Northam to order the 60-foot statue removed from state-owned property,” reported the newsgroup.
A quite large group of citizens, along with an ancestor of the family that had provided the property to the state of Virginia over 120 years ago, have filed lawsuits this past year after Ralph Northam. the Democratic Governor of Virginia, attempted to push to take down the statue in the wake of the death of George Floyd following an encounter with police forces in Minneapolis.
As reported by the NPR:
Separate lawsuits were filed by a group of residents who own property near the statue and a descendant of signatories to the 1890 deed that transferred the statue, pedestal and land they sit on to the state.
Descendant William Gregory argued that the state agreed to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” the statue. And five property owners argued that the governor is bound by a 1889 joint resolution of the Virginia General Assembly that accepted the statue and agreed to maintain it as a monument to Lee.
During a hearing before the Supreme Court on June 8, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the Virginia Constitution does not grant the governor the authority to remove the statue. But Attorney General Mark Herring’s office said a small group of private citizens cannot force the state to maintain a monument that no longer reflects its values.
After the failure of the lawsuits, the plaintiffs attempted to take their cases to the Supreme Court of the state.
The Washington Post has also reported on this decision:
In rejecting one of the appeals, the justices found that requirements built into the 1889 deed giving the site to the state, as well as language adopted by the General Assembly in 1890 authorizing the accepting of the property, no longer bind the state to preserve and protect the monument.
The justices wrote that “those restrictive covenants are unenforceable as contrary to public policy and for being unreasonable because their effect is to compel government speech, by forcing the Commonwealth to express, in perpetuity, a message with which it now disagrees.”
“Today’s ruling is a tremendous win for the people of Virginia,” stated Governor Northam as part of a statement this past Thursday. “Our public memorials are symbols of who we are and what we value. When we honor leaders who fought to preserve a system that enslaved human beings, we are honoring a lost cause that has burdened Virginia for too many years.”
Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s (D) office was the team that argued the case for Northam. Herring has since praised the decisions. “Today is a historic day in Virginia. Today, we turn the page to a new chapter in our Commonwealth’s history — one of growth, openness, healing, and hope,” he stated in a release.