Opponents of City Hall’s plan to remove four Confederacy-related monuments in New Orleans lost another round in court Friday when a Civil District Court judge shot down a request to keep the statues in place while a trial plays out.
The ruling is the second time in a month a judge has essentially told those seeking to block the removal that they have little chance of prevailing in a legal fight, though moves are underway to appeal both decisions.
The opponents are seeking to block the city’s plan to take down statues of Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard and a monument to an insurrection against the state’s post-Civil War government known as the Battle of Liberty Place.
In rejecting the latest effort Friday, Civil District Judge Piper Griffin leaned on last week’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in a similar case brought by the Monumental Task Committee, a group that donates time and money to repair and maintain public statues in New Orleans, and other groups.
In a more than 60-page decision, Barbier ruled that essentially none of the arguments advanced by the Monumental Task Committee had any chance of succeeding in a full trial.
“How do you get over the hurdles that were clearly dealt with and the resolutions that were come to by District Judge Barbier?” Griffin asked. “How do you get to that? ‘What’s different?’ I guess is my question.”
“Why would I do a parallel case on essentially the same arguments, same evidence, same law?” Griffin said.
The case before Griffin was brought personally by Pierre McGraw, the head of the Monumental Task Committee, and includes a portion of the arguments made in the federal court case, focusing largely on whether the city followed its own procedures for determining whether the statues were “nuisances” that should be taken down.
When John Dunlap III, one of McGraw’s attorneys, argued the city had not proven two of the criteria for that designation — that the monuments had been or could be the site of violent protests and that their maintenance constitutes an unnecessary expense — Griffin said those were issues for the City Council, not the courts, to decide.
“They put in place a procedure and followed that procedure. It’s not my province or my job to substitute my opinion unless I find it violated someone’s rights,” Griffin said.
Griffin’s interest was piqued by one argument, that the removal of the Lee statue should have been reviewed by the panel of the Historic District Landmarks Commission that regulates the Central Business District, which includes Lee Circle, rather than the citywide panel.
But city attorneys replied that the ordinance allowing the statues to be declared a nuisance specified the process should go through the larger commission and that the CBD-focused board has authority only over private property.
Several times during the hearing, Griffin dismissed arguments by referring back to Barbier’s ruling and told the plaintiffs she wasn’t planning on overruling a federal judge.
“That’s just his opinion, your honor,” Dunlap said after Griffin cited the federal court ruling on one point.
“And that’s called an appeal,” she replied.
Notices of appeal already have been filed in both the federal and Civil District Court cases, and attorneys said they plan to pursue the suits as far as they can.
In the meantime, the city is moving forward with arrangements to take down the statues. The City Council on Thursday approved use of $170,000 from an anonymous donor to pay for the removal, and the city plans to put the project out to bid next week.
Organizers with Take ’em Down NOLA, a group pushing for the removal of a wide range of statues in the city they argue promote white supremacy, have called on the city to keep moving forward with the removal and to hire local and minority- or women-owned firms to do the removal.