Amid the battle over the Charlottesville statues of the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Virginia Judge Richard E. Moore of Charlottesville Circuit Court ruled that they are war memorials protected by state law. The decision comes almost two years after the deadly Unite the Right rally, which was initially organized to protest the plan to move one of the statues and drew a crowd of white nationalists, neo-Confederates, and neo-Nazis.
The New York Times reports that while some see the statues as monuments to racism, others believe that they are Civil War memorials that should be preserved.
Moore agreed that although the statues can be viewed as symbols of racism, the fact that both sides agree that they depict Confederate military leaders inherently makes them war memorials.
“While some people obviously see Lee and Jackson as symbols of white supremacy, others see them as brilliant military tacticians or complex leaders in a difficult time. In either event, the statues to them under the undisputed facts of this case still are monuments and memorials to them, as veterans of the Civil War.”
Back in March 2017, the City Council was sued by citizens who believe that councilors who voted to move the Lee statue earlier in the month acted unlawfully. The lawsuit was later amended to include both statues.
A Virginia judge has ruled that statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in Charlottesville are war monuments that the city cannot remove without permission from the state. https://t.co/Zg914WdsAK
— ABC 7 News – WJLA (@ABC7News) May 1, 2019
Bob Fenwick, a former council member who is named in the case, voted to remove both statues and told a CBS affiliate that he was “very comfortable” with his decision.
“It’s based on a flawed law, so the law doesn’t make much difference; it was a public process, it was a lawful process, so that’s our case,” Fenwick said.
In January, the city argued that the law doesn’t apply to the statues because they don’t qualify as war memorials, instead suggesting they are symbols of white dominance during the Jim Crow era. Attorneys for the city wrote a statement in which they called the statues “part of a regime of city-sanctioned segregation that denied African-Americans equal access to government and public spaces.”
Richard Schragger, a law professor at the University of Virginia, wasn’t surprised by the recent ruling. He says that most people expect it to head to the state’s Supreme Court and that they are waiting for a judge to rule on a few more elements of the case, including whether prohibiting the removal of the statues violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Virginia and United States Constitutions.