Judge denies request to halt Confederate monument removal

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The Jefferson Davis monument in 2004. - BART EVERSON/FLICKR
  • BART EVERSON/FLICKR
  • The Jefferson Davis monument in 2004.
The City of New Orleans is now free to begin removing four controversial Confederate landmarks. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier has denied a request from several parties that filed suit after the New Orleans City Council approved Mayor Mitch Landrieu's plans to begin removing the four monuments — Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis and a monument to the Battle of Liberty Place.

Barbier's pending denial was forecasted during a Jan. 14 hearing in which he verbally swatted down nearly every argument from the plaintiffs, which include the Louisiana Landmark Society, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, the Monumental Task Committee and Beauregard Camp No. 130, a local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans,

The suit challenged Mayor Mitch Landrieu and federal agencies by arguing that “the city intentionally discriminated against defenders of these four monuments,” among a dozen other challenges — including that moving them would damage them, and that the federally funded streetcar lines should protect the two monuments near them. The suit also alleges that the city violated due process and equal protection. Barbier dismissed all of the above.

"The Court is well aware of the emotion and passions that are involved in this case; however, this is a court, not a political body like the City Council," Barbier wrote in his Jan. 26 ruling. "The Court does not judge the wisdom, or lack thereof, of the actions taken by the Mayor or the City Council. The only issue before the Court is a legal one: Does the City’s newly passed ordinance violate Plaintiffs’ statutory or constitutional rights? The instant motion asks the Court to determine simply whether the Plaintiffs have shown that they are entitled to the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction. For the foregoing reasons, the Court concludes that they have not. Therefore, the motion for a preliminary injunction must be denied."

The groups filed the 51-page complaint within hours of the City Council’s 6-1 decision last month to remove the monuments. The city filed a 173-page response, plainly announcing the decision to remove them “involves difficult policy and value judgments by democratically elected local officials following extensive public debate. One would be hard-pressed to find a case less suited to judicial intervention by a federal court.”

The city agreed not to begin moving the monuments until Barbier’s decision — though one crew began measuring the Jefferson Davis monument earlier this month. In a statement, Landrieu Press Secretary Hayne Rainey said Landrieu is "pleased with the Court’s sound ruling on this issue."

 "Once removed, the monuments will be stored in a City-owned warehouse until further plans can be developed for a private park or museum site where the monuments can be put in a fuller context," the statement read. A timetable for removal has not been announced.

In response to the charges that removing the monuments would damage them, Barbier said the plaintiffs presented "only the possibility of damage if the monuments are handled and stored irresponsibly," and that evidence of previous monument renovations show that it's possible the City won't mishandle them.

Barbier added that "injunctions will not be granted merely to allay fears and apprehensions, or to soothe anxieties."

The groups also charged the U.S. Department of Transportation for the streetcar projects' role, but Barbier said "even assuming Plaintiffs are able to establish that the six streetcar projects were improperly segmented, Plaintiffs fail to explain how any of the six streetcar projects may harm the monument."

"Plaintiffs have not demonstrated any nexus between a federally funded project or undertaking and the removal of the monuments at issue," he added.

The equal protection and due process charges also were denied. "The removal of the four monuments will affect all citizens in the same way," Barbier wrote. "Plaintiffs also argue that the City cannot constitutionally remove some offensive monuments unless it removes all offensive monuments. Plaintiffs essentially argue that all similarly situated monuments were not treated alike; however, the Equal Protection Clause ensures the equal protection of persons, not monuments."

The Monumental Task Committee (MTC) argued its stake in the monuments' survival, as the group has volunteered to clean and care for them, among other statues. Barbier said the group "performed its work without expectation of remuneration" and that "the volunteer services donated by MTC do not support a property interest in the monuments."

"In sum, Plaintiffs have established only that they disagree with the City’s action," Barbier added, "not that the City abused its power."

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