The case at hand stems from several lawsuits filed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 2020. These lawsuits were in response to Henry and Newton County Commissioners’ decision to remove Confederate statues from downtown squares. The Sons of Confederate Veterans have appealed to the state Supreme Court after the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the counties. The Court of Appeals held that the Confederates did not have standing to sue because they alleged no individual injuries, and that even if they had, their claims would be barred by sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is a state law that protected government officials acting in their official capacity – until it was repealed in 2021.
Now, the Confederate group argues that standing is not required because the primary question in the case is not about constitutionality. Instead, the Confederate group relies on the Open Meetings Act and the Open Records Act, which do not require a special interest in order for a person or group to challenge enforcement of a public duty. Under this theory, the Confederate group appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court to impose a civil penalty against the counties for removing Confederate memorials. If a penalty were enforced, the Confederate group would receive damages to be used for repair and replacement of the memorials.
While the reasons in favor of removing Confederate statues may seem obvious to many of us, this particular movement was jump-started by the violence that broke out at a 2017 demonstration in support of a Robert E. Lee statue in Virginia. As a result, many neighboring cities and counties moved to dismantle such memorials – both to minimize future violence and to denounce the racism and hatred rooted in their very existence. In 2019, Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation prohibiting the dismantling and moving of publicly owned monuments without taking steps to protect them for interpretation. By the summer of 2020, amidst national outrage and activism following the murder of George Floyd, many people were once again calling for the removal of these Confederate statues.
This leads us back to the consolidated case at hand, in which the collective trauma of an entire people is being weighed against the protection of inanimate objects that commemorate a war fought entirely because of racism. The details of the case may come down to gritty legal questions regarding standing, but the larger question remains: why should our country protect historically condemnable monuments over its own Black citizens? The Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments in this case last Thursday. These arguments will determine if the Confederate group must in fact allege personal injuries to challenge the counties’ decisions, or if the Court of Appeals’ decision in favor of the counties will stand.
Source: The Current