CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A Virginia judge ruled Wednesday that a lawsuit over Charlottesville’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee should go forward.
Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore ruled against a request from the city to drop the lawsuit, which centers on a state law that protects memorials for war veterans, local media reported. The case is being closely watched as other cities across Virginia weigh what to do with their Confederate monuments in the aftermath of this summer’s white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville.
A group of plaintiffs that includes a Confederate heritage group sued after Charlottesville’s City Council voted earlier this year to remove the statue of Lee, which stands in a city park. An injunction has prohibited its removal while the lawsuit plays out.
Attorneys for the city wanted the case dismissed, arguing in part that the state law on memorials, amended in the 1990s, doesn’t apply retroactively to older statues.
The judge disagreed. He acknowledged that a technical reading of the law could support that conclusion, but said it “seems absurd” to believe the Legislature expected a new wave of monuments to old conflicts, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
The judge also wrote that the legal challenge didn’t include enough detail to establish why a statue of Lee should be considered a war memorial.
“Plaintiffs argue that it is ‘common knowledge’ who Robert E. Lee is,” Moore wrote. “That may be, but does not resolve the issue.”
He gave the plaintiffs 21 days to provide more evidence to support that claim.
The city’s statue removal decision prompted white nationalists to organize a rally in August. The night before the main event, they marched through the University of Virginia carrying torches and chanting racial slurs.
The day of the rally descended into chaos, with attendees and counterprotesters brawling in the streets. After authorities forced the crowd to disperse, a car rammed into a group of people protesting the white nationalists, killing one woman and injuring many more.
Charlottesville has since shrouded the Lee statue and another of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson with a black shroud as a symbol of mourning.
The city council has also since voted to remove the Jackson statue pending the resolution of the lawsuit.