NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A state judge ruled Friday against an effort by preservationists to stop the removal of prominent Confederate monuments in New Orleans.
Civil District Court Judge Piper D. Griffin said the city did not act improperly in deciding to take down four monuments tied to Confederate history, including a towering column and statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Griffin denied a request to stop the city from moving forward with its plans. The plaintiffs said they would appeal.
The state suit deals with three of the four monuments: statues of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, P.G.T. Beauregard, a Louisiana-born Confederate general, and Lee. A fourth monument, an obelisk to the White League’s attempt to overthrow a biracial government after the Civil War, is under a federal consent decree.
Pierre McGraw, president of the Monumental Task Committee Inc., filed a lawsuit in late January to stop the removal. His group maintains the monuments. Another historic preservation group, the Lafayette Square Association, joined his suit Thursday.
A similar challenge by McGraw’s group and others was shot down in federal court in January. That ruling is being appealed, too.
Griffin was quick to point out the ruling by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.
“I have a 62-page opinion from a federal judge,” Griffin said, adding that the plaintiffs’ arguments had been “dealt with” by Barbier. “What’s different?”
McGraw’s lawyers tried to convince Griffin that their client had a property interest in the monuments because he had spent tens of thousands of dollars maintaining them.
John B. Dunlap III, a McGraw lawyer, argued that under the state’s Constitution someone who maintains another person’s property acquires a “property interest.” He said this issue of state law had not been fully considered by Barbier.
Adam Swensek, a city attorney, argued that that provision applies only to private property, not public property. “It is a fallback argument,” he said. “It is a stretch.”
Griffin agreed, and she said citizens who volunteer to help maintain city parks cannot claim ownership of those parks.
The plaintiffs also argued that the city’s ordinance allowing the removal was flawed.
The ordinance says a monument can be removed if it may provoke violent protests or if its presence would cause the city to incur maintenance expenses, such as having to remove graffiti. The law also says a monument can be removed if it is deemed a nuisance for fostering supremacist ideologies.
“The three monuments here have never been the scene of violent demonstrations,” Dunlap argued.
Swensek countered that the ordinance specified that a monument could be removed if it might become a scene for violent protest. He added that a national “groundswell of racial tension” could make the monuments “a lightning rod and powder keg for that type of violence.”
In December, the City Council voted 6-1 to remove the monuments, capping an emotional and at times raucous series of public meetings.
The city has encountered some difficulty in finding someone to do the removal work. In January, a city contractor the city had chosen to do the work pulled out after he said he received death threats.
On Friday, Hayne Rainey, press secretary for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said the city will seek bids from contractors next week. An anonymous donor has agreed to pay for the removal, which the city estimates will cost $170,000.