RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Supreme Court on Wednesday cleared the way for the city of Richmond to take down its last remaining Confederate statue, lifting an injunction granted by a judge in July that blocked Mayor Levar Stoney from authorizing the removal of any additional monuments in the city.
Stoney appealed Richmond Circuit Court Judge Bradley Cavedo’s decision to grant a 60-day injunction on July 9, which came after all but one statue, a memorial to Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill in Richmond’s North Side, was removed.
The mayor cited an emergency ordinance that was adopted by the Richmond City Council in response to the coronavirus pandemic and public safety concerns when he bypassed a 60-day removal process established by the state.
The first monument that was removed by the city, the Stonewall Jackson statue, was taken down on July 1, the first day local governments had the authority to remove Confederate monuments.
On July 7, an anonymous plaintiff filed a lawsuit seeking to block Stoney from ordering the removal of any further Confederate statues, alleging the mayor deliberately went around procedures and usurped the City Council’s authority to determine the monuments’ final disposition. The lawsuit also claimed that Stoney violated Richmond City Charter when he failed to get the necessary votes from the council to pass an emergency ordinance.
On Wednesday, the state’s highest court vacated the injunction that was granted. The court ruled that the plaintiff did not have “an express right of action” to challenge the removal of the monuments.
“Because Anonymous failed to allege a potentially viable right of action, he or she was not entitled to a temporary injunction,” the order read. “The circuit court abused its discretion in determining otherwise, and we vacate the temporary injunction.”
James B. Thomas, the attorney who represented the plaintiff in the suit, did not immediately respond to 8News’ request for comment. Robert Rolfe, an attorney at Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP who represented the mayor and the city council, applauded the effort of the other members of his firm, including Stuart Raphael, Ed Fuhr, Matt McGuire and Matt Brooker.
“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision and expect that it will have implications for other cases pending against the City with respect to the Confederate monuments,” Rolfe told 8News on Thursday.
Crews worked quickly to remove several other monuments before the injunction was granted: the Matthew Fontaine Maury statue, J.E.B. Stuart statue, Confederate Soldiers and Sailors statue, the cannon sitting atop a pedestal just west of the Arthur Ashe memorial, the cannon near the statue memorializing the President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis and the monuments to Fitzhugh Lee and Joseph Bryan in Monroe Park. The Jeff Davis Monument was toppled by protesters in June.
The process to remove the A.P Hill statue, which does present a unique challenge as the Confederate General’s remains are buried underneath the monument, can now move forward. Jim Nolan, a spokesman for Stoney, told 8News on Thursday that “the issue is still being researched.”
The city is now fielding offers for the monuments, giving those interested until Sept. 8 to submit a letter of intent, after city council members voted unanimously earlier this month to keep the statues down for good.
A trial has been set for October in the case seeking to block the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue, which is owned by the state, from Richmond’s Monument Avenue.