Mayor Mitch Landrieu has agreed to delay taking down four controversial Confederate monuments until at least mid-January, when a federal judge will hear arguments from the city and from groups that filed suit to block the removal.
The agreement provides a temporary reprieve for the statues, at least three of which were slated to come down within days after the City Council voted 6-1 on Thursday to authorize their removal from public locations.
The monuments honor Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and a white militia group that sought in 1874 to overthrow the state’s biracial Reconstruction-era government in what became known as the Battle of Liberty Place.
Landrieu signed the ordinance declaring them to be public nuisances subject to removal shortly after the council’s vote Thursday afternoon. But four groups of preservationists and monument supporters quickly filed a federal lawsuit seeking to keep them where they are.
The lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who late Friday afternoon directed both sides to meet with him in his chambers Jan. 14 to discuss whether a temporary restraining order should be issued to prevent the city from moving ahead with the removal while the case plays out in court. In the meantime, the city has agreed to take no action toward removing the statues.
“The city of New Orleans has confirmed with the court that the city will take no action to remove the four monuments in question in the interim,” Barbier wrote.
The agreement gives the city more time to respond to the many allegations in the 51-page lawsuit. Initially, Barbier had set a meeting for Monday, presumably to ensure it would occur before any monuments were moved.
A Landrieu spokesman said the administration was aware of Barbier’s order and is prepared to meet in January.
Landrieu administration officials had said Thursday that the three statues of Confederate leaders could come down as soon as a contractor was selected from a list of firms pre-approved to do small jobs for the city, a process that was expected to be complete within days.
The fourth statue, which celebrates the militia known as the White League, already is the subject of a protective court order dating back to the early 1990s, when the city was sued for removing the marker from Canal Street during construction and never putting it back in place. That order would need to be lifted before the city could take any action with regard to it.
The city plans to store the statues in a warehouse until a new site can be identified to house them. Landrieu has suggested creating a commission that would be charged with planning a park to house the four statues and perhaps others also deemed to be racially divisive, while providing historical context for them.
The statues of Lee in Lee Circle, Davis on Jefferson Davis Parkway, Beauregard at the entrance to City Park and the White League monument on Iberville Street have been at the center of controversy since Landrieu declared in June they should be taken down because they celebrate a racist ideology. The heated debates over their fate culminated on Thursday, when the council approved the ordinance allowing them to be removed.
Councilwoman Stacy Head cast the only vote against that measure, arguing that the administration had wielded too much influence in the debate and warning that the same process also could condemn other prominent statues in the city, including that of Andrew Jackson in Jackson Square.
Almost immediately after Landrieu signed the measure, the Monumental Task Committee, the Louisiana Landmarks Society, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana and Beauregard Camp No. 130 filed their suit.
It argues that protections in federal law and policies, and the state and federal constitutions prevent the statues from being removed.
The suit cites 12 reasons, including that the city does not have clear and sole ownership of the statues; that removing the statues would violate a federal law that makes it a crime to injure or damage monuments to veterans; that the terms of an earlier ordinance allowing for the removal of statues if they are declared to be “nuisances” were not satisfied; that the council discriminated by choosing to remove only some monuments; and that the planned use of a private donor to pay the cost of moving them would violate city policies.
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