RICHMOND, Va. -- The Supreme Court of Virginia heard oral arguments on Tuesday regarding the fate of the Gen. Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond. The justices listened to arguments from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring's office and the plaintiff’s attorneys from two cases.
Homeowners near the 131-year-old Confederate statue believe an 1890 deed demands that the state must protect and preserve the monument for perpetuity.
The 60-foot-tall statue made of bronze and granite sits on the city’s historic Monument Avenue.
Joseph Blackburn, the attorney for William Gregory, said his client is the great-grandchild of the original owners of the deed.
“If the governor two years later had changed his mind and wanted to take the monument down in 1892, Mr. Gregory’s grandparents could have stopped that,” Blackburn said.
However, Virginia Solicitor General Toby Heytens argued that the plaintiffs are against “representative democracy” and the state has the authority to take down the statue.
Virginia lawmakers had set aside money in the state’s budget for the removal of the statue during a special session in 2020.
“Regardless of whether plaintiffs had any enforceable property rights, that right was extinguished by the 2020 law and that law is perfectly constitutional,” Heytens explained.
A handful of individuals cannot force the Commonwealth to maintain the property in perpetuity, Herring told reporters following the hearing.
“We have won every single challenge so far and yet, even though we’ve won, there’s an injunction in place and that should be dissolved as quickly as possible,” he stated.
Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk), Herring’s Democratic challenger for Attorney General in Tuesday's statewide primary, has also pushed for the removal of the Confederate statues.
He believes taking the statues down is directly tied to the state’s concerted effort to reform criminal justice.
Others, however, want the statue to remain.
A spokesman for the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans calls the figure a memorial to those who died defending the South during the Civil War. They pushed back on the notion that the statues were part of a propaganda campaign to retell the history of the Civil War.
Herring said it could take months of the Supreme Court of Virginia to hand down a verdict. Even then, the plaintiffs can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The first step in an appeal would be to file a petition to ask for an appeal so that can be a long process,” Herring explained. “But I would say again I feel confident in our case.”
Later in the afternoon, about two dozen protesters assembled outside the Supreme Court of Virginia on North 9th Street demanding the removal of the statue.
The group changing in bullhorns then walked to the Main Street Station, which is the site of a polling place on Primary Day.