Ga. Supreme Court hears two Confederate monument statue cases

(File photo)

Credit: Chris Joyner

Combined ShapeCaption
(File photo)

Credit: Chris Joyner

Credit: Chris Joyner

The highest court in Georgia on Thursday heard oral arguments in two cases dealing with the removal of statues honoring the Confederacy.

While the justices did not render a decision, the eventual ruling could have statewide effects on other pending lawsuits and in how local governments deal with these monuments.

The cases concern a Henry County statue in McDonough Square and a Newton County statue in Covington Square. The lawsuits came after commissioners from both counties have voted to remove the statues. The Sons of Confederate Veterans in their lawsuits argue that taking down the memorials will cause them to “suffer injury to (their) rights and dignity,” according to a court document.

Conversation around Confederate imagery has grown not only in the public but also in the legal world — as Georgia law prohibits removing publicly owned historical or military monuments. What differentiates the two cases heard Thursday is that they deal with removal of privately owned monuments from public property.

A ruling on this pair could have a long-reaching effect, including in the case of a Confederate monument in Lawrenceville’s downtown square installed in 1993.

The arguments were not about the merit of honoring those whose action supported the abhorrent practice of slavery, the discussion Thursday was about the plain facts of the case. Each side was given 20 minutes to make their case, and the justices will decide later.

Justice Nels Peterson pressed Kyle King, who is representing the Sons, about how an organization could have standing instead of an individual taxpayer. Patrick D. Jaugstetter, the attorney representing the counties, refuted King’s points but also received a grilling from justices.

“The policy question is one that reasonable people can disagree on,” King said. " ... There’s a much larger context for this particular fight.”

The Henry and Newton statues were erected about half a century after the Civil War ended, during a period when scores of Confederate monuments were built across the South. The push coincided with flourishing Jim Crow laws and the release of the film “The Birth of a Nation,” which helped fuel the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan atop nearby Stone Mountain.  Historians have previously told the AJC that the monument craze was more about immortalizing a warped history of the war and promoting white supremacy than honoring Southern soldiers.

The next spike in Confederate monument erection was around the start of the Civil Rights movement that centered on equality for Americans who were Black.

These days, about half the populations of Henry and Newton counties identified in the Census as Black or African American.

Staff writer Tyler Estep contributed to this report.

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