|RICHMOND (September 18, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today filed an amicus brief in The City of Charlottesville, Virginia and Charlottesville City Council v. Frederick W. Payne, et al. asking the Supreme Court of Virginia to lift an injunction that is preventing Charlottesville from removing city-owned Confederate monuments. In his amicus brief, Attorney General Herring argues “the General Assembly specifically changed the underlying [statute] to…include new language that specifically authorizes removal of all such monuments.” Attorney General Herring also notes that “[t]he Commonwealth of Virginia has an interest in ensuring that its localities are not compelled to maintain government-owned monuments commemorating racial oppression and disunity.”
“It is time for the Confederate propaganda in communities across the Commonwealth to come down. It does not represent who we are as Virginians today, nor does it represent the Virginians we want to be in the future,” said Attorney General Herring. “I have long said that localities should be able to decide for themselves the future of these symbols and reimagine their public spaces.”
In February 2017, Charlottesville’s city council voted to remove a city-owned statue of Robert E. Lee and rename the park where it is located, but a lawsuit was filed the following month that resulted in an injunction blocking the city’s plans. On August 12, 2017, “white nationalist groups descended on Charlottesville for the ‘Unite the Right’ rally, which also opposed the City’s removal of the Lee statue. The protestors waved Confederate flags and chanted white supremacist slogans as they marched through educational facilities and residential neighborhoods. Three people died, dozens were injured, and countless more were traumatized.” Following the Unite the Right rally, Charlottesville then voted to remove its city owned Stonewall Jackson statue, the plaintiffs amended their original complaint, and the Court expanded the temporary injunction to include the statue. In October 2019, the Court entered a permanent injunction, which meant the city could not remove either statue.
During the 2020 General Assembly session, legislation was passed “giving all of the Commonwealth’s localities control over all government-owned monuments on government-owned property…specifically repeal[ing] both the previous language that had prohibited ‘disturb[ing] or interfere[ing]’ with covered monuments and the language that had authorized private lawsuits arising out of removal or alteration of publicly owned monuments.” Charlottesville then appealed the lower court’s permanent injunction arguing that the case was now moot because of the new legislation.
These two Confederate statues were both part of a larger effort in Virginia following the Civil War “to lionize Confederates and the cause for which they fought…and as of 2016, the Commonwealth had the most Confederate monuments of any state.” As Attorney General Herring notes in his brief, “[t]he building of the Jackson and Lee statues in Charlottesville were inextricably intertwined with a rise in ‘public and celebratory white supremacy’ and ‘the local embrace of the KKK…and Lost Cause mythologizing.’”
In addition to filing today’s amicus supporting Charlottesville’s authority to remove city owned Confederate statues, Attorney General Herring has been fighting in Richmond Circuit Court to have the state-owned Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond removed. He has also successfully fought in court to get the Confederate flag removed from Virginia license plates and he has issued multiple advisory opinions to help facilitate the removal of Confederate iconography including:
- Helping Danville remove the Confederate flag from a city owned historic home
- Laying out parameters by which localities may be able to alter or remove Confederate statues
- Paving the way for renaming the Jefferson Davis Highway in parts of Northern Virginia