Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has both “the authority and the moral obligation” to remove a massive statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Attorney General Mark Herring’s office said in a court filing Wednesday.
Herring will defend the governor's decision in a lawsuit filed by a Virginia resident and “ensure the removal of this divisive relic," the filing said, calling the statue a “piece of state property freighted with exclusionary meaning to broad swaths of Virginians.”
It came after Richmond Circuit Court Judge Bradley B. Cavedo issued an injunction Monday preventing Northam’s administration from removing the statue for 10 days.
The lawsuit argues the state is a party to a deed recorded in March 1890 in which it accepted the statue, pedestal and ground they sit on and agreed to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” them.
The lawsuit was filed by William C. Gregory, a descendant of two signatories to the deed. Named as defendants are Northam and the director of the Department of General Services, the agency tasked with handling the removal.
The filing requests a copy of the transcript from Monday’s proceedings, which attorneys for the state were not a party to. It also says the plaintiff did not notify the attorney general or governor of the suit, hearing, or injunction “despite filing suit in a circuit court less than two blocks away from the Office of the Attorney General."
Northam last week ordered the statue of Lee taken down, citing the pain felt across the country over the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck.
Protesters in Richmond have already toppled a statue of Confederate Gen. Williams Carter Wickham in a park near downtown, and on Tuesday night they tore down a statue of Christopher Columbus, set it on fire and threw it into a lake.
Those statues were far smaller than the one of Lee, which according to the Department of General Services weighs about 12 tons (11 metric tons) and stands 21 feet (6.4 meters) tall atop a 40-foot (12.2-meter) pedestal.