NEW ORLEANS (CN) — The Fifth Circuit and a federal judge ruled again Monday that New Orleans may remove four monuments to the Confederacy, and one monument came down, disassembled by workers wearing bulletproof vests.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier issued a 38-page ruling the same day a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit affirmed for the second time Barbier’s original ruling that the monuments could go.
The latest ruling, which dismissed all of the remaining claims against the city from a handful of preservation societies and societies for descendants of Confederate veterans, said the “Court’s role has never been, and will never be, to pass judgment, in approval or protest, on the wisdom of the government’s actions,” and that removing the monuments will not violate anyone’s civil rights.
In darkness early Monday morning, workers wearing bulletproof vests and scarves to obscure their faces disassembled the first of four monuments the city has said must go. City officials said the monument – the Battle of Liberty Place monument, a 35-foot granite obelisk erected in commemoration of whites in 1874 who tried to topple a biracial government by killing police officers – was disassembled by night to prevent those who disagree with the removal from thwarting it.
The plaintiffs – the Louisiana Landmarks Society, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, the Monumental Task Force Committee, and Beauregard Camp No. 130, a chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans – filed a lengthy lawsuit in December 2015 after Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed a controversial ordinance saying the four prominently placed monuments celebrating Confederate heroes should be removed.
Barbier rejected the lawsuit in 2016, and the matter went to the Fifth Circuit. A three-judge panel affirmed Barbier’s original ruling in March this year, but meanwhile the plaintiffs brought still more claims.
The Liberty Place monument was hauled away in pieces by a truck shortly before daybreak Monday.
Three more monuments are slated to go in the coming weeks or days, though the city has declined to specify when: a 60-foot-tall marble column and statue dedicated to Gen. Robert E. Lee; a large statue of Louisiana-born Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard on horseback; and a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
“The decision to remove these statues was made after a lengthy public process that determined these statues failed to appropriately reflect the values of diversity and inclusion that make New Orleans strong today,” the city said in a statement Monday.
“In each case, the statues were erected decades after the Civil War was over as part of the ‘Cult of the Lost Cause,’ and to demonstrate that there was no sense of guilt for the cause in which the South fought the Civil War.” The statement added: “Despite a prominent statue of him placed in the city, General Robert E. Lee never set foot in New Orleans.”
In June 2015, after Dylann Roof killed nine and wounded three others in an historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, officials in several Southern cities called for removal of Confederate flags and other symbols from government properties.
Landrieu called for removal of the Confederate memorials in New Orleans in the same spirit.
During a 60-day public comment period that followed Landrieu’s proposal, two city commissions called for the removal of the four monuments.
The plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order to stop the city from taking down the monuments while their case was pending. Landrieu promised not to do so until the outcome of the lawsuit was determined, but even after Barbier’s initial ruling, death threats against the family of the first contractor who was hired to remove the monuments caused him to pull out.
“The removal of these statues sends a clear and unequivocal message to the people of New Orleans and the nation: New Orleans celebrates our diversity, inclusion and tolerance,” Mayor Landrieu said in a statement. “Relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once. This is about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile – and most importantly – choose a better future. We can remember these divisive chapters in our history in a museum or other facility where they can be put in context – and that’s where these statues belong.”
The Louisiana Landmarks Society declined to comment on Barbier’s ruling, and representatives for the other plaintiffs did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
In his ruling, Barbier rejected the plaintiffs’ claims that because the monuments are part of a multiyear effort to create streetcar lines the city does not have authority to remove them, because the transportation projects were paid for with federal money.
The groups also accused the city of “secrecy” for not disclosing who had offered an anonymous $175,000 donation to fund the removal, and sought additional discovery to find out who the donor was, including assurances that the money is not from a federal source.
Barbier said the city had already disclosed that the donation came from the Foundation for Louisiana, so additional discovery is unnecessary.
Defendants were the city, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority.