A state lawmaker has delayed hearings for a week on a bill that could impede the removal of four controversial monuments in New Orleans, saying she needs more time to prepare a presentation on the measure before it goes before a state Senate committee.
At the same time, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is asking the courts to allow his administration to take down a monument to an 1870s white supremacist militia despite a court order from the 1990s forcing the city to return the monument to public view.
On Wednesday, state Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, asked to postpone a hearing on Senate Bill 276, which would set up a commission within state government that would have authority over whether to allow the removal of Confederate or other historic monuments that some people now deem offensive.
She proposed the bill after the New Orleans City Council in December approved Landrieu’s plan to remove statues of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, President Jefferson Davis and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place, an 1874 insurrection in New Orleans led by former Confederates.
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, the chairwoman of the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee, promised to give the measure a fair hearing when Mizell is ready.
However, almost half the committee’s members are New Orleans Democrats who are expected to vote against the bill. That’s prompted some monument supporters to argue the legislation should go through the Senate Education Committee, which is largely made up of Republicans.
The Landrieu administration has argued that Mizell’s bill, even if passed, could not force the city to keep the monuments in place.
Meanwhile, Landrieu is moving forward with efforts to remove the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place.
While the statue is arguably the most offensive of the four the council has approved removing — it explicitly champions white supremacy, celebrates a violent insurrection that killed 13 police officers and has been a rallying point for David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan — it also presents the most hurdles for the Landrieu administration. That’s because a previous attempt to take down the statue ended with a federal court ordering the city to put it back in public view.
“For more than a century, the Liberty Place Monument has served to venerate one of the most shameful episodes of the city’s history,” the city argued in a filing seeking permission from U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to remove it.
Ironically, the Landrieu administration is using a lawsuit seeking to keep all the monuments in public view as a means of trying to gain permission to take down the Liberty Place marker. In a filing submitted in that case last week, the city argues that Barbier should permit it to move forward with the removal.
The court order dates back to the early 1990s, when the Liberty Place monument was removed from the Canal Street neutral ground while a federally funded street project was underway.
A descendant of one of the members of the White League — the group that led the 1874 insurrection to overthrow the state’s biracial Reconstruction government and restore whites-only “home rule” — sued when it was not returned after the construction ended.
A federal court agreed that federal dollars could not be spent to remove it permanently because of historic preservation laws, although it was moved from Canal Street to the foot of Iberville Street a block away.
The Landrieu administration, however, argues that the court order required only that the statue be put back on public view, not that it must remain there indefinitely.
“The city therefore seeks a declaration that it fully complied with the terms of the consent order by restoring the Liberty Place Monument at the end of the Canal Street project and permitting it to remain at its location for 25 years” and that its removal at this time “does not violate the terms of the consent order,” according to the filing.
Mark Ballard contributed to this story.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.