Richmond judge makes ruling in Robert E. Lee statue case

Richmond judge makes ruling in Robert E. Lee statue case
Gov. Northam announces the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond will be removed (Source: Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A Richmond judge has dissolved the temporary injunction that was blocking the Robert E. Lee statue from being removed along Monument Avenue.

“We WON the Lee statue case after a judge found that it was raised against a backdrop of white supremacy and that it is against public policy to keep it up,” Attorney General Mark Herring tweeted.

Herring said the ruling stays pending appeal, but that it is a pathway to have the statue removed.

The plaintiffs argued in court on Oct. 19 that Gov. Northam does not have the authority to remove the statue because it would violate restrictive covenants in deeds that transferred the statue, its pedestal and the land they sit on to the state.

“The judge agreed with us that this divisive antiquated monument to white supremacy was against public policy in the commonwealth so we are now on a path to take it down," said Herring.

Herring argued in court it cannot be forced in perpetuity to maintain a statue, especially since it’s become so divisive. The state has budgeted just under $1.1 million for the removal.

"This is important because of the message it will send. this was a monument that was erected 130 years ago to re-establish the white supremacy that ran thru our history since its founding and that does not reflect the commonwealth we are today,” said Herring.

The judge’s ruling comes months after the temporary injunction was put in place after Northam announced plans to have the statue removed.

"I’m glad that ruling happened, and I think it’s inevitable one of these days that it’s going to come down one way or another,” Jimmy Lee Javis said.

While some are happy with the judge’s ruling, others are not.

“It seems there’s no legal basis in the judge’s response...The decision was based on current public policy, meaning the current whims of a socialist movement to remove everything American and to take away America’s sense of identity by removing its heritage,” Andrew Morehead with the Sons of Confederate Veterans said.

Crowds cheered all across Richmond earlier this year when the city brought down other Confederate statues, and protesters also pulled down some of their own. But the Lee monument still stands.

“I think it’s more a slap in the face that it actually took this long,” Richmond organizer Ray Fields said.

Still, Fields doesn’t want a movement to get lost in the meaning of symbols.

“The statue coming down, it’s a political win, it’s a good facade, it’s a good symbol but you still see day in and day out, there’s no change for the Black community,” Fields said.

Northam released the following statement on the ruling:

"The Lee monument was built to celebrate the Confederacy and uphold white supremacy. This victory moves Virginia forward in removing this relic of the past—one that was erected for all the wrong reasons.

“I am grateful to Attorney General Mark Herring and his team for their tremendous work on this case. Today we are one step closer to a more inclusive, equitable, and honest Virginia.”

“This is a historic day in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This decision, and the eventual removal of the last monument to the lost cause, send the message loud and clear that our past doesn’t define our future. We can and will heal, and we will be stronger for it,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said in a tweet.

Reached by phone, an attorney for the plaintiffs, Patrick McSweeney, confirmed to the Associated Press that his clients would appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

To read the full order, click here.

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