Law & the Courts

Virginia Judge Halts Northam Decision to Remove Robert E. Lee Statue

The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va., September 16, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

A Virginia judge temporarily stayed Governor Ralph Northam’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the state capital of Richmond, saying the decision violated an 1890 deed which said the commonwealth would “faithfully guard it and affectionately protect it.”

Northam, who announced his decision to remove the statute last week in the wake of national unrest following the death of George Floyd, “remains committed to removing this divisive symbol,” his press secretary said after the decision.

“Governor Northam remains committed to removing this divisive symbol from Virginia’s capital city, and we’re confident in his authority to do so,” press secretary Alena Yarmosky said in an email to USA Today late Monday night.

Richmond Circuit Court judge Bradley B. Cavedo issued a 10-day injunction on Monday after Northam and Joseph F. Damico, director of the state Department of General Services, were sued over the decision to remove the statue.

Cavedo pointed to an 1890 deed filed in Henrico County that said the state “guaranteed” to place the Lee statue in its existing location and would “faithfully guard it and affectionately protect it.” The property was part of Henrico County until Richmond annexed it two years later in 1892. Virginia now owns the land where the Lee statue is, while the remaining four Confederate statues in city limits are owned by Richmond.

Northam has been outspoken about replacing Confederate vestiges during his time as governor, most recently signing legislation to make Election Day a state holiday. The April order repealed and replaced Lee-Jackson Day, which honored Lee and fellow Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson.

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