Court Rules Robert E. Lee Statue in Virginia Can Be Removed

Court Rules Robert E. Lee Statue in Virginia Can Be Removed Court Rules Robert E. Lee Statue in Virginia Can Be Removed An 8-foot fence is erected around the Robert E. Lee monument on Jan. 25, 2021, in Richmond, Virginia. (Eze Amos/Getty Images)

By Scott D. Jones | Thursday, 02 September 2021 12:56 PM

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a 21-ft bronze statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee can be removed by state officials. The ruling came in response to a pair of lawsuits filed by Virginia residents and a descendant of Lee.

The statue has stood in Richmond, Virginia’s Monument Avenue District for more than 100 years, according to The Washington Post. Last year, the statue became a subject of controversy amid protests and civil unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered the statue to be removed just 10 days after Floyd’s death.

Lee family descendant William Gregory argued the state agreed to "faithfully guard" and "affectionately protect" the statue. Five Virginia property owners also argued that the governor is bound by a 1889 joint resolution of the Virginia General Assembly that accepted the statue and agreed to maintain it as a monument to Lee.

The Virginia Supreme Court rejected both of those arguments. The Court found requirements built into the 1889 deed giving the site to the state, as well as language adopted by the General Assembly in 1890 authorizing the accepting of the property, no longer bind the state to preserve and protect the monument.

The justices wrote that "those restrictive covenants are unenforceable as contrary to public policy and for being unreasonable because their effect is to compel government speech, by forcing the Commonwealth to express, in perpetuity, a message with which it now disagrees."

The city of Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy for most of the Civil War, has removed more than a dozen other historic Confederate statues on city land since Floyd's death. This has sparked a wave of calls for additional removals of Confederate monuments in cities across the country.