NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge's ruling Tuesday allows the city to move ahead with plans to remove prominent Confederate monuments from the city's streets, and delivers a blow to preservationists and a chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled against a collection of groups seeking to block the removal of four monuments, including a towering marble column and bronze statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, a landmark on the cityscape.
In December, the City Council voted 6-1 to remove the monuments. The move is one of the boldest statements yet by an American city to sever ties with its Confederate past, and it has sparked strong emotions in this Deep South city where tensions over the Civil War still run deep.
Barbier, though, said his ruling was based on the law, not on passions.
"The Court is well aware of the emotion and passions that are involved in this case," Barbier wrote in his 62-page ruling. "The Court does not judge the wisdom, or lack thereof, of the actions taken by the Mayor or the City."
The city is enforcing an ordinance that allows the removal of monuments considered a public nuisance because they honor ideologies that foster racial, ethnic or religious supremacy and cause vandalism and civic unrest.
Barbier wrote that "the only issue before the Court is a legal one: Does the City's newly passed ordinance violate Plaintiffs' statutory or constitutional rights?"
Barbier knocked down each argument the plaintiffs made and said they "have failed to demonstrate that they will likely succeed on the merits of any of their claims."
The plaintiffs have advanced many arguments; among them, that their constitutional rights had been violated by the process for removal, the ordinance was unlawful and the monuments were protected by historic preservation laws.
The plaintiffs have vowed to pursue appeals and had asked Barbier to allow the monuments to stand until all appeals are exhausted. The lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, Franklin Hardy Jones III, did not return messages seeking comment.
The plaintiffs are the Louisiana Landmarks Society, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, the Monumental Task Committee Inc. and the Beauregard Camp No. 130.
Besides the Lee monument, also slated for removal are a large equestrian statue of P.G.T. Beauregard, a Louisiana-born Confederate general; a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis; and an obelisk dedicated to a group of white supremacists who sought to topple a biracial Reconstruction government in New Orleans.
Hayne Rainey, the press secretary for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, welcomed the ruling. "We are pleased with the Court's sound ruling on this issue," he said in a statement.
He declined to outline the city's next steps, saying details would be announced "as they become available."
Once removed, he said, the city plans on storing the monuments in a warehouse until a plan is devised to place them in "a private park or museum site where the monuments can be put in a fuller context."