CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The battle over Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson statues has made it all the way to the highest court in the commonwealth.
The city of Charlottesville and the Monument Fund squared off for oral arguments in the Supreme Court of Virginia on Friday, Nov. 11. While the statues will eventually be moved, it’s a question of when and how much it will cost the city.
With the court in session virtually, acting Charlottesville City Attorney Lisa Robertson conducted her arguments at City Hall, arguing that the state statute used to issue a permanent injunction against the city removing its Confederate statues never actually applied to them.
The length of this legal battle is something longtime supporter of moving the statues former City Counciler Kristin Szakos says she never expected. That belief is in part due to the city’s interpretation of the statute the Monument Fund says protects the statues, defining them as protected war memorials.
“The fact that the court case has lasted so long, I have found disturbing and baffling," Szakos said. “I believed and our city attorney believed, at that point, that the state law regarding war memorials didn’t apply to this. We had case law from Danville that said it didn’t apply.”
Richard Schragger, a University of Virginia law professor specializing in local government, says it’s a valid question.
“When the statues in Charlottesville were erected, which was in the 1920s, there was no state statute that applied to monuments,” Schragger said. "The state statute that applied to monuments only applied to counties, not to cities until 1997.”
The Monument Fund argues the statute did still apply to statues and memorials like Charlottesville’s.
“The argument of the plaintiffs is that it had to be the intent of the legislature to have this apply to present and current statues that are in existence," Schragger said.
The city’s argument seemed to sway at least one justice, but whether it was enough to secure a ruling in the city’s favor could take weeks to decide.
“Courts move pretty slowly,” Schragger explained. "So it’s not it’s not clear when that will happen and what exactly they will rule.”
Szakos said that patience is key. “The statues have stood for almost 100 years," she said. “So a couple more months. Hopefully, we can get them down.”
The city and the Monument Fund are waiting for that final decision, which would either dissolve the injunction and waive attorney’s fees or uphold those fees and send the case back to the Circuit Court for a decision on the injunction.