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Va. Supreme Court clears way for removal of Lee monument in Richmond

The Supreme Court of Virginia cleared the way Thursday for Gov. Ralph Northam to remove the Lee Monument in Richmond, one of the largest Confederate memorials in the state.

In two opinions issued Thursday, the Court denied challenges by a small group of neighbors and an heir to the family that initially granted the land for the monument.

The justices wrote that the neighbors had no standing to sue and that an 1890s deed restriction that purports to require the state to maintain the monument in perpetuity is unenforceable.

“The Commonwealth has the power to cease from engaging in a form of government speech when the message conveyed by the expression changes into a message that the Commonwealth does not support, even if some members of the citizenry disagree because, ultimately, the check on the Commonwealth’s government speech must be the electoral process, not the contrary beliefs of a portion of the citizenry, or of a nineteenth-century governor and legislature,” the justices wrote.

Northam announced he planned to take down the state-owned memorial in June 2020 amid widespread protests for racial justice, but the lawsuits prevented work from beginning.

The state fenced off the monument in January in preparation for the statue’s removal. Four other Confederate memorials on Monument Avenue in Richmond that are owned by the city were removed in July 2020.

Lee’s removal will leave just one statue standing on the street, a monument to tennis legend and city native Arthur Ashe installed in 1996.

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