Judge rules Alabama Confederate monuments protection law is null and void

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A small Confederate battle flag waves at the grave of a Confederate veteran in a cemetery in Tuskegee, Ala., on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. The mostly black city still has a Confederate monument dedicated in 1909 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which has a small chapter in the city. [Photo Credit: AP Photo | Jay Reeves]

A judge has overturned an Alabama law that prevents the removal of Confederate monuments from public property.

Late Monday, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo issued a 10-page ruling that said the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act does not have any legal authority.

“Just as the state could not force any particular citizen to post a pro-Confederacy sign in his or her front lawn, so too can the state not commandeer the city’s property for the state’s preferred message,” Graffeo wrote in his ruling.

On May 25, 2017, Gov. Kay Ivey signed the act into law. It preserves all historical monuments on public property that have been in place for at least 40 years.

“We can’t change or erase our history, but here in Alabama, we know something Washington doesn’t — to get where we’re going means understanding where we’ve been,” Ivey said in a campaign ad highlighting the law.

Graffeo’s ruling follows a 2017 lawsuit filed by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall against the City of Birmingham and then-Mayor William Bell for violating the state law by constructing barriers to deliberately obscure a Confederate monument in the city’s downtown Linn Park.

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Men walk past a Confederate monument in Linn Park in downtown Birmingham, Ala. [AP Photo/Jay Reeves, File]

“In accordance with the law, my office has determined that by affixing tarps and placing plywood around the Linn Park Memorial such that it is hidden from view, the Defendants have ‘altered’ or ‘otherwise disturbed’ the memorial in violation of the letter and spirit of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act,” said Marshall. “The City of Birmingham does not have the right to violate the law and leaves my office with no choice but to file suit.”

“A city has a right to speak for itself, to say what it wishes, and to select the views that is wants to express,” Graffeo added. “The state acknowledges that the city is generally free to engage in government speech… but explains that the act withdraws from the city the right to engage in a particular expressive message. This explanation is impermissibly content-based… [the state] also cannot manipulate the city’s speech for the illegitimate purpose of favoring certain content of viewpoints.”