Virginia high court to hear challenges to Lee statue removal

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Supreme Court of Virginia is set to hear arguments in two lawsuits that challenge Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to take down a 131-year-old statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Northam’s decision was announced in June 2020, just 10 days after George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer sparked protests over police brutality and racism in cities around the country, including Richmond.

Separate lawsuits were filed by a group of Richmond residents who own property near the statue and a descendant of signatories to an 1890 deed that transferred the statue, pedestal and land they sit on to the state. The high court will hear arguments in both cases on Tuesday.

In his lawsuit, William Gregory argues that the state agreed to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” the statue in the deed. In the other lawsuit, five property owners say that an 1889 joint resolution of the Virginia General Assembly accepting the statue and agreeing to maintain it as a monument to Lee is binding on the governor. They say Northam’s order to remove the statue exceeded the governor’s authority under the Virginia Constitution.

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office will ask the court to uphold a lower court’s rulings in favor of the governor. Herring argues that leaving the massive monument to Lee in place will continue to cause pain to many people who see it as a symbol of white supremacy and Black oppression.

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