RICHMOND, Va. -- The Supreme Court of Virginia has ruled unanimously that the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee can be removed from its place of honor along Monument Avenue in Richmond. Two lawsuits filed in 2020 had prevented its removal following the murder of George Floyd.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who ordered the statue's removal in 2020, called the ruling a "tremendous win for the people of Virginia" and an important step forward for a more inclusive, just future.
It is something Fletcher Boyd agreed with -- as he came down to Monument Avenue shortly after the ruling was announced.
"I'm really excited for it to come down," Boyd said. "It's been up for a minute."
The statue was erected in the 1890s. Those who sued the state to prevent its removal argued language written into deeds compelled the state to protect the monument. The court found that “restrictive covenants” in the 1887 and 1890 deeds that transferred the statue to the state no longer apply.
“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,” the justices wrote.
CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone explained the ruling.
"A land grant cannot dictate what sort of speech the government is going to have in perpetuity," Stone said. "So it's an unenforceable covenant, if it is a covenant."
Andrew Morehead, with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he was disheartened but not surprised by the decision.
"It sets up a very poor legal precedent," Morehead said. "That current public policy, which is a whim, supersedes the very law itself."
Stone added the plaintiffs could appeal to the US Supreme Court which would again delay the statue's removal. When asked about that possibility Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said he hoped the plaintiffs saw the power of the decision and would not delay the process any further.
When asked about an appeal, an attorney for one of the two groups of plaintiffs said they had no comment.
Herring said he hoped the plaintiffs and their attorneys would see the power of the decision and not delay the statue's removal any longer.
"But I'll say this, if they try, we will be there to oppose it," added Herring. "This statue is coming down."