On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Virginia decided the state can remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

As reported by the Washington Post, the statue is allowed to be taken down from Monument Avenue in Richmond. “In unanimous rulings in two separate cases, the justices affirmed the power of Gov. Ralph Northam to order the 60-foot statue removed from state-owned property,” the outlet reported. 

A group of citizens and an ancestor of the family that had provided the property to the state of Virginia over 120 years ago filed lawsuits last year after Democratic Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam pushed to take down the statue after George Floyd died following an encounter with police in Minneapolis. 

As NPR reported:

Separate lawsuits were filed by a group of residents who own property near the statue and a descendant of signatories to the 1890 deed that transferred the statue, pedestal and land they sit on to the state.

Descendant William Gregory argued that the state agreed to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” the statue. And five property owners argued that the governor is bound by a 1889 joint resolution of the Virginia General Assembly that accepted the statue and agreed to maintain it as a monument to Lee. 

During a hearing before the Supreme Court on June 8, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the Virginia Constitution does not grant the governor the authority to remove the statue. But Attorney General Mark Herring’s office said a small group of private citizens cannot force the state to maintain a monument that no longer reflects its values.

 After the lawsuits were unsuccessful, the plaintiffs took their cases to the state’s Supreme Court. 

The Washington Post reported the decision: 

In rejecting one of the appeals, the justices found that requirements built into the 1889 deed giving the site to the state, as well as language adopted by the General Assembly in 1890 authorizing the accepting of the property, no longer bind the state to preserve and protect the monument. 

The justices wrote that “those restrictive covenants are unenforceable as contrary to public policy and for being unreasonable because their effect is to compel government speech, by forcing the Commonwealth to express, in perpetuity, a message with which it now disagrees.”

“Today’s ruling is a tremendous win for the people of Virginia,” Governor Northam said in a statement on Thursday. “Our public memorials are symbols of who we are and what we value. When we honor leaders who fought to preserve a system that enslaved human beings, we are honoring a lost cause that has burdened Virginia for too many years.” 

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s (D) office argued the case for Northam. Herring praised the decisions. “Today is an historic day in Virginia. Today, we turn the page to a new chapter in our Commonwealth’s history — one of growth, openness, healing, and hope,” Herring said in a written statement.

After social justice protests and Black Lives Matter riots broke out across the country last year, several states have looked to reassess famous statues, as well as the names of streets, colleges, and buildings that might be offensive to citizens. 

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