On Wednesday, Virginia state Judge Richard Moore ruled that the memorial statues honoring General Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson must remain in place during the trial.
Moore rightly explained that removing the memorials would violate state law, and many people argue that since the U.S. Congress voted three times to give Confederate soldiers “veteran” status, removing the memorials would violate the laws governing all war monuments.
The Hill reported:
Moore issued a permanent injunction preventing the statues from being moved at the beginning of a trial over a lawsuit brought against the city by groups that wanted to preserve the statues.
People pressing for the statues to be moved argued it was wrong to celebrate generals who had fought to preserve slavery. But Moore seemed to argue that the statues themselves did not have such a meaning.
“People give the statues messages,” NBC29 reported Moore said to the attorneys. “They speak of history, one we might not like.”
The city of Charlottesville had argued that stopping the statue’s removal went against the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment by portraying a racist message.
Moore had already ruled the city could not take down the statues without permission from the state.
Moore noted in April that his rulings do not affect how a jury would decide the case if it came to that point.
Charlottesville’s original attempts to take down the statue of Lee in February 2017 erupted into an August white nationalist rally, where a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd and left one person dead.
Judge Richard Moore said Wednesday, September 11, that the 1904 state statute was amended several times, covers all wars, and statues don’t have a discriminatory message.
Moore’s comments come as the trial over the city’s plans to move two confederate statues finally got underway. The trial in Charlottesville Circuit Court is scheduled to take up to three days.
Judge Moore has already stated that the statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson are war memorials, and thus cannot be moved due to state code.
The defense’s equal protection claim was the city’s final attempt to get the judge to dismiss the case.
In 2017, Charlottesville City Council voted to remove both statues from their public parks. Initially, councilors were divided over the proposal to move the Lee statue. They later voted unanimously to the proposal, as well as to move the Jackson statue, citing events related to white nationalists in Charlottesville that year.
Two groups – the Monument Fund, Inc. and the Virginia Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. – and 11 individuals – Frederick W. Payne, John Bosley Yellott Jr., Edward D. Tayloe II, Betty Jane Franklin Phillips, Edward Bergen Fry, Virginia C. Amiss, Stefanie Marshall, Charles L. Weber Jr., Lloyd Thomas Smith Jr., Anthony M. Griffin, and Britton Franklin Earnest Sr. – first filed their lawsuit on March 20, 2017.
Plaintiffs are now asking Judge Moore to award them $500 each, as well as $604,000 in attorney fees.
Wednesday, the court heard testimony from several of the plaintiffs. They all expressed shock and anger over City Council’s actions. The executive director of the Monument Fund, John Yellott, started crying over his frustrations.
“I was appalled that our City Council would just attempt to exercise what I would consider raw political power in just defiance of the law. I mean, to me the law was so clear,” said Charles Weber, plaintiff and spokesperson for plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs have agreed to donate their $500 to The Monument Fund, which also promised the plaintiffs that they would not be charged attorney fees.
Judge Moore will also decide if there are “encroachment damages” from when the statues were tarped for 188 days. That basically means if the plaintiffs suffered as a result. City Council voted unanimously on August 21, 2017, to cover the statues with “mourning shrouds” because of the lives lost on August 12.