AP, December 19, 2015
A lawsuit is challenging a city plan to remove prominent Confederate monuments by alleging that the city does not own the land under three of the monuments and that they are protected from removal by state and federal laws.
The suit, filed shortly after the City Council voted Thursday to remove four monuments, asked Judge Carl Barbier of Federal District Court in New Orleans to halt removal plans. The suit was filed by three preservation organizations and a New Orleans chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The monuments slated for removal include a 60-foot-tall marble column and statue dedicated to Gen. Robert E. Lee and a large equestrian statue of P. G. T. Beauregard, a Louisiana-born Confederate general. Also designated for removal are a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and an obelisk dedicated to a group of white supremacists who sought to topple a biracial Reconstruction government in New Orleans.
The city is relying on an ordinance that allows it to take down monuments on public property or under its control considered a “nuisance” because they foster dangerous and unlawful ideologies of supremacy and may become rallying points for violent demonstrations.
The suit is aimed at Mayor Mitch Landrieu and, in a legal twist, the federal Department of Transportation and other federal transportation officials for their role in paying for streetcar work that has, according to the suit, damaged the monuments. The suit also claimed that federal officials should stop the removal because the monuments should be considered historic elements of nearby streetcar lines.
Louis R. Koerner Jr., a New Orleans lawyer and historian not involved in the case, said the suit had merit.
“I think they put their foot out and tripped everybody up,” he said. Mr. Koerner said the questions raised about whether the monuments should be viewed as integral to the streetcar work was clever and could force the city into a lengthy historic review process.
The 51-page suit said removal would be unlawful for many other reasons–including violating laws protecting monuments dedicated to military veterans and history.
It also argues that the Lee and Beauregard monuments are protected because they are on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Davis monument because it was nominated for the register.
The suit also claimed that the city’s use of the nuisance ordinance was flawed, that the monuments did not fit its definition and that the city cannot claim ownership to three of the monuments because the land under them was donated by the city to groups raising money for the monuments between 1877 and 1911.