RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A judge heard arguments Tuesday but did not immediately rule on whether to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s plans to remove an enormous statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee along Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue.
An injunction currently prevents Northam’s administration from moving forward with plans to take down the bronze equestrian statue of Lee. The monument was erected in 1890 at a time when the Civil War and Reconstruction were over and Jim Crow racial segregation laws were on the rise.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is seeking to have the injunction lifted and lawsuit tossed.
Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant said he would rule “within a week” after hearing from Herring’s office and an attorney for the plaintiffs, a group of property owners in the statue’s vicinity.
If Marchant declines to toss the lawsuit, a trial is expected in October, according to Herring’s office.
In early June, Northam announced plans to remove the statue, citing the pain felt across the country about the death of George Floyd, who died under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer as he struggled to breathe. But Northam’s plans have been tied up in court since then.
Now cloaked in graffiti, the Lee statue and other nearby monuments have become a rallying point during ongoing social justice protests and occasional clashes with police.
Floyd’s death sparked a renewed wave of Confederate monument removals across the U.S., just like a violent 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville before it and a mass shooting at a historic African American church in South Carolina before that.
Critics of the statues say they distastefully glorify people who fought to preserve slavery in the South. Others say their removal amounts to erasing history.
Four other prominent statues of Confederate leaders have been taken down from city property along the avenue this summer.