New Orleans can take down a monument to a white supremacist militia that fought against Louisiana’s biracial Reconstruction-era government in the city’s streets, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
The ruling clears the way for the city to remove the monument commemorating the so-called Battle of Liberty Place just days after a federal appellate court ruled Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration should not be blocked from taking down three statues to high Confederate officials elsewhere in the city.
Confederate heroes Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard will soon be decampi…
The city has been trying to take down the monument to the White League militia as well as more prominently situated statues honoring Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate President Jefferson Davis for more than a year. But even though the City Council authorized the move in December 2015, the fate of all four statues had been tied up in the courts until this week.
Of the four statues, the Liberty Place monument is the most controversial. It celebrates an 1874 rebellion in New Orleans that attempted to overthrow the state’s Northern-backed "carpetbagger" government and restore white "home rule." The effort failed, but not before numerous city police officers were killed in what became known as the Battle of Liberty Place.
A plaque added decades after the marker was originally erected celebrated the end of Reconstruction as recognizing “white supremacy in the South.”
In addition to the main case that has delayed the four monuments' removal, filed by the Monumental Task Committee and other groups hoping to keep them standing in public, the city faced an additional hurdle in its efforts to take down the Liberty Place monument.
A previous attempt to remove the marker from public view in the early 1990s as part of a roadway project using federal funds sparked a lawsuit seeking to force the city to put it back in its original location on the Canal Street neutral ground near the river.
That suit ended with what became known as the Shubert consent order, named after the plaintiff in the case, in which the city agreed to put the statue on public property near its original location. Since the early 1990s, it has stood next to Iberville Street near the river, largely hidden from view behind the Canal Place parking garage.
After being forced to re-erect the statue, the city added an additional plaque urging reconciliation.
In the course of the lawsuit over removal of all four statues, the city asked the court to lift the earlier consent order and allow it to take down the Liberty Place monument. The plaintiffs, however, claimed that the order meant the city could not remove the statue, that the use of federal funds — which typically are not permitted to pay for the removal or demolition of historic buildings or artifacts — protected it, and that taking it down would harm their groups because of their investment in preservation and the city’s history and culture.
But U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled Wednesday that none of those arguments should prevent the city from taking down the marker. He said the consent order only ordered the city to put the monument back up and did not set any requirements for how long it must remain in public view.
Nothing “within the plain language of the Shubert consent order prohibits the city from removing the Liberty Place Monument,” according to the order. “The consent order only required the city to determine the historically appropriate boundaries for the monument, select a site within such boundaries to re-erect the monument, and re-erect the monument.”
Barbier also ruled the plaintiffs had not made a case that removing the statue would violate their rights.
“This abstract need or desire to preserve the well-being of New Orleans and the Liberty Place Monument is not a constitutionally protected right,” he wrote.
Barbier’s ruling likely means that the Liberty Place monument will join the other three statues, which the city is hoping to take down by late May, in storage until new sites for them can be determined.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion Monday denying a request to block the removal of any statues until a full trial of the case can play out in Barbier’s court.
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