Virginia’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the city of Charlottesville can remove statues of two Confederate generals, including one of Robert E. Lee that was at the center of a deadly white nationalist rally in 2017.
The court overturned a 2019 Circuit Court ruling that the statue of Lee and a nearby monument to Stonewall Jackson could not be removed because they were protected by state law.
The Charlottesville City Council approved a resolution to remove the Lee statue in 2017. A group of citizens filed a lawsuit opposing the move, and white nationalists rallied in the city in August 2017 to protest the effort. White nationalists clashed with counterprotesters, one of whom was killed when a car driven by an Ohio man plowed into a crowd.
(After the rally, the council voted to also remove the statue of Jackson; the lawsuit was then amended to include both statues.)
Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn of the Virginia Supreme Court wrote in the court’s opinion that the city could remove the statues because they were erected before the adoption of a state law that prohibits cities from disturbing or interfering with monuments and memorials once they are in place.
“In the present case, the Statues were erected long before there was a statute which both authorized a city’s erection of a war memorial or monument and regulated the disturbance of or interference with that war memorial or monument,” Justice Goodwyn wrote.
The Lee statue was erected in 1924 in Lee Park, and the Jackson statue was erected in 1921 in Jackson Park.
The state law in question applied only to counties when it was passed in 1904, but it was amended in 1997 to give cities and local governments the authority to erect war-related monuments and memorials.
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