Fed. Appeals Court Ruling Means New Orleans Can Remove 3 Confederate Monuments, Mayor Landrieu Makes Statement
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal appeals court cleared the way Monday for the city of New Orleans to take down three Confederate-era monuments that have been a source of tension in the Southern city.
A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld a lower court's refusal to block the removal.
The City Council voted in December 2015 to remove four monuments after a series of heated public meetings. One of those structures remains tied up in other litigation.
"We do not pass on the wisdom of this local legislature's policy determination, nor do we suggest how states and their respective political subdivisions should or should not memorialize, preserve, and acknowledge their distinct histories," the ruling said. "Wise or unwise, the ultimate determination made here, by all accounts, followed a robust democratic process."
The judges also said records show the city owns the monuments, rejecting an argument by monument supporters indicating ownership was uncertain.
In a statement released after Monday's 5th Circuit ruling, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the city would remove the monuments, store them and preserve them until an "appropriate" place to display them is determined. Bids for the removal are to be released Tuesday, Landrieu said in a news release.
The most prominent of the statues is a likeness of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee standing high atop a pillar at Lee Circle on historic St. Charles Avenue. Others honor Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis. The fourth monument, honoring whites who rebelled against a Reconstruction government, will remain in place pending unrelated litigation.
Landrieu had urged the monuments' removal after police said a white supremacist who posed for photos with the Confederate battle flag killed nine parishioners inside an African-American church in South Carolina in June 2015.
But their removal has been sharply controversial in a city where passions over the Civil War still run strong. Opponents call the monuments part of the city's history and say they should be protected historic structures. Others say they're offensive artifacts honoring the region's slave-owning past.
A contractor hired to remove the monuments later pulled out of the job, citing death threats and possible loss of business. The city has put the bid process on hold until the court process concludes.
Groups arguing for the monuments to remain mounted a legal challenge to keep the statues in place, and the 5th Circuit year blocked the city from removing the monuments — until Monday's ruling.
"This win today will allow us to begin to turn a page on our divisive past and chart the course for a more inclusive future," Landrieu said.
Michael Quess Moore, a founding member of Take Em Down NOLA, a group advocating for the removal of monuments, said he was "ecstatic."
"This is a huge teachable moment for the nation to learn about the dangers of white supremacy," Moore said.
In a statement late Monday, groups supporting the monuments said they are disappointed and "a more appropriate response to calls for the monuments' removal is a program to include explanatory plaques and markers to present these individuals in the context of their time."
The groups are considering whether to ask for a rehearing before the full 5th Circuit Court, according to the statement.
The judges who issued Monday's ruling were Patrick Higginbotham, nominated by President Ronald Reagan; Jennifer Elrod, nominated by President George W. Bush; and Stephen Higginson, nominated by President George W. Bush.
They unanimously upheld U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier's dismissal of a request for a preliminary injunction pending a trial. The case remains alive in Barbier's court with no trial date set.
– by AP Reporters Kevin McGill and Rebecca Santana
Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued the following statement on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on the Confederate monuments case:
“[Monday] the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the City’s ability to control its property. This win [Monday] will allow us to begin to turn a page on our divisive past and chart the course for a more inclusive future. Moving the location of these monuments—from prominent public places in our city where they are revered to a place where they can be remembered—changes only their geography, not our history. Symbols matter and should reflect who we are as a people. These monuments do not now, nor have they ever reflected the history, the strength, the richness, the diversity or the soul of New Orleans.
“These monuments will be preserved until an appropriate place to display them is determined.
“Once removed, we will have the opportunity to join together and select new unifying symbols that truly reflect who we are today.”
In February 2015, Mayor Landrieu signed an ordinance calling for the relocation of four Confederate monuments from prominent locations in New Orleans. The four monuments are: the Robert E. Lee statue at Lee Circle, the Jefferson Davis statue on Jefferson Davis Parkway, the P.G.T Beauregard equestrian statue on Esplanade at the entrance to City Park and the Battle of Liberty Place Monument at Iberville Street.
During a Special Meeting of the New Orleans City Council, Ordinance Calendar No. 31,082 was considered at the request of Councilmembers Jason Rogers Williams, Jared C. Brossett, James Austin Gray II and Nadine M. Ramsey. This ordinance declared that the four Confederate monuments are nuisances pursuant to Section 146-611 of the Code of the City of New Orleans and be removed from their prominent locations in New Orleans. The members of the City Council voted 6 to 1 in support of this ordinance.
It is anticipated that private dollars will be used to pay for the removal of these monuments, City reps said. Bids for the removal will be released today. The City will also begin the legal process necessary to remove the Liberty Place monument, which is currently subject to a federal court order, City reps said. Additional details will be announced as they become available.
Once removed, the monuments will be stored in a City-owned warehouse until further plans can be developed for a park or museum site where the monuments can be put in a fuller context, City reps said.