Confederate Groups Lose Monument Removal Battle in 11th Circuit

A Confederate statue is seen in Munn Park in Lakeland, Florida, in June 2009, prior to its removal. (Photo via Ebyabe/Wikipedia Commons)

(CN) — The removal of a Confederate monument from a Florida town square did not violate the First Amendment rights of Southern heritage advocates, an 11th Circuit panel ruled Monday.

The decision by the federal appeals court comes as cities around the nation remove statues and other monuments commemorating the Confederacy.

The ruling affirmed the dismissal of a case brought by members of the groups Southern War Cry, Veterans Monuments of America, Sons of Confederate Veterans and Save Southern Heritage Florida. The groups sued Lakeland, Florida, city officials in 2018 after they voted to move a 110-year-old statue memorializing Confederate soldiers from the town square to a veterans’ cemetery.

A federal judge in Tampa dismissed the case last year, prompting the appeal.

In a 26-page opinion, the three-judge panel found the group members lacked standing to bring the lawsuit because they could not prove any “concrete injury” caused by relocating the statue.

“The plaintiffs’ alleged injuries here are simply too abstract,” U.S. Circuit Judge Kevin C. Newsom wrote.

“They don’t allege, for example, that they routinely visited the monument in Munn Park or, alternatively, that they won’t be able to visit the monument at its new location in Veterans Park,” he wrote. “Rather, their allegations implicate only the generalized desires to promote Southern history and to honor Confederate soldiers.”

The statue, erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1910, stood prominently in downtown Lakeland’s Munn Park until city officials began receiving complaints during the burgeoning national debate about Confederate monuments over the last several years. The Lakeland City Commission voted to move the monument from the park to a nearby veterans’ cemetery using $225,000 from red-light camera citations.

Lakeland city officials moved the cenotaph — a monument built to commemorate people buried elsewhere — a month after the Confederate groups filed an appeal to the 11th Circuit. Construction crews took four days to move the massive 26-foot-tall memorial inscribed with Confederate flags and a poem.

Attorneys for the city of Lakeland and the Confederate heritage groups could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.

During oral arguments in April, plaintiffs’ attorney David McAllister told the judges on the panel in Atlanta that his clients suffered “psychological damage” by removing the monument.

“History matters,” he said.

In the appellate opinion, Newsome called those injuries “pretty amorphous.”

“What exactly is the ‘Southern perspective?’” wrote the Donald Trump appointee. “What exactly was ‘the cause for which the Confederate veteran fought,’ and what exactly does it mean to ‘vindicate it.’”

Similarly, Newsom wrote, the plaintiffs’ due process claim was too vague.

Joining Newsom on the panel was U.S. Circuit Judge Beverly Martin, a Barack Obama appointee, and Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, a Ronald Reagan appointee visiting from the Ninth Circuit.

The ruling could restrict future challenges to the removal of Confederate monuments.

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