RICHMOND — The Supreme Court of Virginia on Friday agreed to hear appeals from two groups seeking to block Gov. Ralph Northam's efforts to remove the enormous statue of Robert E. Lee on the city's Monument Avenue.
Northam (D) announced in June that he was ordering the state’s titanic statue removed after it became the focus of social justice protests over police brutality against Black Americans. The lawsuits prevented him from acting.
In one case, a descendant of the family who deeded the monument site to the state in the 1880s contends that Northam is violating the terms of the deed. In the other case, a group of five local residents argues, in part, that Northam’s action violates the separation of powers and that the General Assembly must honor a resolution it passed in 1890 agreeing to care for the statue in perpetuity.
State Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), representing Northam, has petitioned the state Supreme Court for an expedited hearing in the appeal of the second case. In announcing Friday that it was granting an appeal, the court rejected a request from the plaintiffs to strike portions of the state’s argument.
It was unclear how quickly the court would take up the cases; no date has been set for hearings, and the plaintiffs have 15 days to post a bond to keep the matter moving forward.
Last month, state workers put fencing around the Lee statue so they could move quickly to take it down if the court rules in Northam’s favor.
After the lawsuits blocked Lee’s removal last year, protesters toppled a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis a few blocks up Monument Avenue.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney then used a new state law to take down almost a dozen other Confederate memorials around the city, including the remaining three on Monument Avenue. Lee stands on state property and is now the last Confederate icon on that famous street.