A judge on Tuesday upheld Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s order to take down a Robert E. Lee monument, saying that arguments to let the memorial stay went against current public policy.
The ruling comes after the governor’s June 4 order was blocked by a 90-day injunction issued by Richmond Circuit Judge W. Reilly Marchant on August 3, prohibiting the removal of the statue after five residents of the 14-block Monument Avenue Historic District sued, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The statue sits on a 200-foot-diameter circle at Monument and North Allen avenues owned by the state that has been subject to repeated vandalism while hosting a number of protests.
The group argued that a restrictive covenant in deeds dating back to 1887 and 1890 requires that the monument be held “perpetually sacred.”
The judge wrote on Tuesday that he found “the enforcement of the existing restrictive covenants in the deeds to the property would be contrary to current public policy, as established by the Virginia General Assembly.”
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office argued that the 130-year-old contract does not legally bind the governor.
Marchant found a special-session legislation that the monument be removed at the governor’s orders and the repeal of an 1889 act allowing the governor to accept the statue as a gift from the Lee Monument Association to be the most compelling evidence offered in favor of the state.
“As the sole author of public policy,” those acts of the General Assembly “clearly indicate that the current public policy of the General Assembly, and therefore the Commonwealth [is] to remove the Lee monument,” Marchant wrote.
While the judge’s latest order dissolved the injunction, he suspended execution of his order pending appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Patrick M. McSweeney, said the group will be appealing the ruling.
The governor celebrated the ruling in a statement on Tuesday.
“The Lee monument was built to celebrate the Confederacy and uphold white supremacy,” Northam said. “This victory moves Virginia forward in removing this relic of the past — one that was erected for all the wrong reasons.”
“Today we are one step closer to a more inclusive, equitable, and honest Virginia,” he said.
Herring said the statue “does not represent who we have become as Virginians, and it sends the wrong message to the rest of the world that we continue to venerate an individual who fought to maintain the enslavement of human beings.”