RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The fate of Richmond’s Robert E. Lee statue is now in the hands of the Virginia Supreme Court. On Tuesday morning, the court will hear arguments in the case and ultimately decide whether the statue remains on Monument Avenue or is removed from the historic street.
Some people see the statue, standing 60 feet tall in the city, as a sign of hate and some see it as a sign of heritage. Regardless of where folks stand on the issue, Virginia’s highest court will take the controversy on Tuesday at 9 a.m.
The only state-owned Confederate statue on Monument Avenue, Lee has been the center of legal debates over the years, but the tipping point sparked last year in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Protests erupted across the nation, including in Richmond, the former Capitol of the Confederacy. The label is something Virginia leaders, like Attorney General Mark Herring, are trying to disassociate with as the state moves towards inclusion.
“It does not reflect who we are as a Commonwealth,” Herring told 8News. “We are not the state we were 100 years ago. We are the Virginia today that believes in equality, justice and opportunity for all Virginians.”
Herring is lending his full support to Governor Ralph Northam’s effort to take the statue down. Northam ordered its removal days after the death of George Floyd, but that decision was met with lawsuits.
Helen Marie Taylor, a long-time resident of Monument Avenue, and other property owners are fighting to keep the statue standing and filed a lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court. Taylor believes that a 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.
In another lawsuit, William Gregory, a descendant of the land owners, argues that the state agreed to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” the statue.
During Tuesday’s arguments, attorney’s for both plaintiffs will argue that the Governor does not have the authority to remove the statue, however Herring says that’s not true.
“People from 130 or 140 years ago should not be able to dictate us today and who we are as a Commonwealth,” Herring told 8News. “It is in the right of the state to make that decision through its elected officials.”
Herring goes on to say that he is confident the Supreme Court of Virginia will uphold the ruling already made by a lower court, ruling in favor of Northam’s order to take the statue down.
“We feel really confident as we go into these oral arguments about the strength of our case. We have won every challenge so far and the only reason the statue is not down is because of an injunction that I think has been improperly issued and needs to be dissolved,” said Herring. “That’s what we are going to be asking the court to do.”
The Deputy Clerk with the Supreme Court of Virginia said it could take weeks, even months, for a final decision to be reached by the seven Justices. Depending on the outcome, an appeal could be filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. 8News checked in with our legal analyst Russ Stone who says it is “extremely unlikely” the case will go to that level and the state’s Supreme Court ruling “should end” the long debate.
Tuesday’s oral arguments can be live-streamed by clicking here.