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Governor of Virginia may remove Robert E. Lee statue, but not yet Judge’s Rules

A towering statue of Robert E. Lee in the Virginia capital that survived a summer of Confederate monument overthrow may be removed, a state judge said Tuesday.

Richmond Circuit Court judge W. Reilly Marchant upheld orders issued in June by Democratic state Governor Ralph Northam ordering the removal of the 21-foot statue, which rests on a 40-foot base. . But the judge put his decision on hold, allowing the monument to remain in place pending an appeal from plaintiffs who had challenged the governor’s order.

Patrick McSweeney, an attorney for the plaintiffs, a group of residents who live near the statue’s Monument Avenue location, told Politico his clients plan to appeal the ruling.

Still, the decision was celebrated by officials in Virginia who attempted to remove the statue and other symbols linking the state to Confederacy.

“The statue of Lee has held an important place and has been a memorial to Virginia’s racist past in the center of our capital for too long,” Mark R. Herring, Virginia attorney general, said in a statement.

“This move brings Virginia one step closer to the permanent removal of this symbol of division,” he said, “and I remain as determined as ever to ensure that it is removed. once for all.

In the weeks following the death of George Floyd after being pinned to the ground by the knee of a white policeman in Minneapolis, protests across the country against systemic racism and police violence against blacks have drawn attention on Confederation monuments and other historical figures linked to slavery. Some monuments were demolished by demonstrators. Others have been fired by local lawmakers.

In June, for example, protesters in Richmond knocked over a statue of Jefferson Davis on Monument Avenue. A month later, the City of Richmond removed three statues of Confederate figures along Monument Avenue. Also during that month, “a life-size statue of Lee and seven busts of other ex-Confederates” were ordered to leave the State Capitol, Judge Marchant noted.

Mr Northam intervened with the order to remove the statue of Lee, but was challenged in court.

In Tuesday’s ruling, Judge Marchant wrote that the governor had the power to essentially overrule the agreements related to the statue, some dating back to 1887. These agreements were supposed to ensure that the statue of Lee would remain in a public space in the city. ‘State.

An agreement reached in 1890 demanded that the Commonwealth of Virginia “guarantee that it will hold said statue, pedestal and circle of earth perpetually sacred for the monumental purpose to which they have been consecrated and that it will faithfully guard and protect them lovingly.”

Judge Marchant wrote that he concluded that the governor’s order “would no longer contravene public order or violate the Constitution of Virginia.”

In his ruling, the judge also cited the testimony of two professors who described what led to the installation of the statue. The testimony of Dr Edward L. Ayers, professor of history at the University of Richmond, and of Dr Kevin K. Gaines, professor of African studies and history at Cornell, “has overwhelmingly established the need for the citizens of the south to establish a monument to their “lost cause”, and to some extent to their way of life, including slavery, “the judge wrote.

Concepción de León contributed reporting.

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