Appeals Court Rules Confederate Statues in New Orleans Can Come Down

Confederate Statue New Orleans AP PhotoGerald Herbert
AP/Gerald Herbert

A three-judge panel with the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled on March 6 that the groups trying to block the removal of statues commemorating Confederate leaders had failed to make a proper legal challenge.

The Monumental Task Committee and the Louisiana Landmarks Society argued in its lawsuit that removing the statues would harm the city’s historic legacy — one of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and two others, Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

“Also slated for removal is the Battle of Liberty Place monument near the foot of Iberville Street, although it has been treated separately from the other three because it was previously moved from Canal Street for a federally funded transportation project,” the Times Picayune reported. “It honors a white separatist-led skirmish to overthrow the Reconstructionist leadership of New Orleans.”

The lower court ruling said, in part: “This Court observed that Plaintiffs did not show that their threatened injury outweighs the potential injury that the preliminary injunction may cause the opposing parties, or that a preliminary injunction would serve the public interest.”

The appeals court agreed. A three-judge panel wrote:

By failing to show a constitutionally or otherwise legally protected interest in the monuments, they have also failed to show that any irreparable harm to the monuments—even assuming such evidence—would constitute harm to Appellants. Second, although Appellants implied at oral argument that the ownership of the monuments and land on which they sit may be uncertain, we have exhaustively reviewed the record and can find no evidence in the record suggesting that any party other than the City has ownership.

Third, like the district court below, we accept the City’s assurances that it will hire only qualified and highly skilled crane operators and riggers to relocate the monuments from their current positions and, further, that the monuments are merely to be relocated,not destroyed.

The court also noted that it did not want to “interfere with this local political process,” which it called a “robust democratic process.”

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu called the ruling a “win” in a statement included in the Times article.

“This win today will allow us to begin to turn a page on our divisive past and chart the course for a more inclusive future,” Landrieu said. “Moving the location of these monuments — from prominent public places in our city where they are revered to a place where they can be remembered — changes only their geography, not our history.”

The Times also included a statement from the Monumental Task Committee, which said its members and the Louisiana Landmarks Commission are considering whether to ask the 5th Circuit for an en banc hearing where all 14 of its judges would be asked to reconsider the three-judge panel’s decision.

“Despite this setback, the non-profit organizations that filed the original suit will continue to argue that all the City’s historic monuments and cultural sites should be preserved and protected, and that a more appropriate response to calls for the monuments’ removal is a program to include explanatory plaques and markers to present these individuals in the context of their time,” the statement said.

In an editorial, the Times expressed support for the removal of the monuments and is seeking ideas from the public to replace Lee — who has towered over the city since 1884 — and the other monuments.

“Our goal is to bring New Orleanians together, the way that we have always come together: through creative self-expression in the streets,” the editorial said. “Surely, all of us — artists, musicians, writers, historians, preservationists, entrepreneurs, gardeners, old liners, new timers — can come up with a fitting tribute to our beloved, inclusive city.

“In so doing, we can show our fractured nation how people of all backgrounds can rally around a common purpose,” the editorial said.