Taking down Richmond's Robert E. Lee statue just got a bit harder

Perched on an enormous pedestal along Richmond, Virginia’s historic Monument Avenue sits a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee mounted on horseback. While covered in graffiti, it’s the last Confederate statue left in the district, with the rest having either been previously removed by the city or torn down by rioting mobs. Governor Ralph Northam (of blackface fame) has sworn that the Lee statue will come down also, but the attempts to do so legally have been tied up in court for months. Yesterday, the last existing legal hurdle was cleared by the judge overseeing the case, but before anyone could make a move to remove it, the judge erected another legal barrier, throwing the situation back on hold, likely for a few more months. And so the angry crowds and the showboating governor will have to wait a bit longer. (Associated Press)

A judge on Monday dissolved one injunction preventing Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration from removing an enormous statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond but immediately instituted a new one in a different lawsuit.

The new 90-day injunction issued by Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant bars the statue’s removal while the claims in a lawsuit filed by a group of Richmond property owners are litigated.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has filed a motion to dismiss the property owners’ case, which has not yet been acted on by the judge, according to Herring’s spokeswoman.

The case that was dismissed had been based on property rights dating back to the 19th century. The statue sits on what was once private property, but a group of landowners turned it over to the state in 1890. A descendent of one of those landowners had come forward with documentation showing that the state promised to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” the statue as part of the agreement to transfer ownership of the land. The judge apparently didn’t find the argument compelling.

But the second suit that has arisen is based on far more recent real estate concerns. Four residents who own property along Monument Avenue have claimed that removing the last historic figure could result in the neighborhood losing its National Historic Landmark designation. This, they argue, would lower property values adversely impact the resident’s financial prospects. The judge found the neighbors to have the standing to sue on that basis.

Given that it will take at least 90 days before another hearing is held, that means that the statue will likely remain standing right through the election. I don’t know if the protests will simmer down after their political value to the Democratic Party abates, but if so, the statue may live to fight another day (figuratively speaking). It’s unlikely that the mobs will be able to tear it down in the meantime. As the AP notes, that monument is more than 20 feet tall and weighs more than eleven tons. It’s been standing there for well over a century, and nobody is going to be simply pulling it down with ropes and hooks.

Since the statue stands on public property, it should be up to the people of the city and the state to decide via their elected officials. And since polling has shown that slim majorities of Virginia voters oppose the removal of Confederate monuments, those officials will probably have a lot of thinking to do.

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Jazz Shaw 7:31 PM on October 02, 2022