The Third Battle of Liberty Place
As expected, last week the New Orleans City Council voted to remove four monuments related to the Confederacy, three dedicated to Confederate leaders and one to members of the White League, who staged an attempted coup to overthrow the Republican-led city administration during Reconstruction. The latter monument carried an inscription saluting “the national election of November 1876 [that] recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state,” before it was removed in the 1990s.
And as expected, there has been an immediate legal challenge to the City Council’s action. I think this is a good thing; that’s how matters properly get settled. But this assertion from the plaintiffs’ filing strikes me as being dead-on-arrival as a legal argument:
Plaintiffs have a First Amendment right to free expression, free speech and free association, which they exercise by maintaining and preserving the historic character and nature of the City of New Orleans, including their monuments, and by using the monuments as the location for events commemorating individuals and events critical to the outcome of the Civil War.
The plaintiffs most assuredly do have First Amendment rights to free expression, but as the courts have repeatedly (and in my view, correctly) ruled, their First Amendment rights don’t obligate the government to use public resources to promote or sustain them. Specifically when dealing with Confederate heritage issues, the First Amendment argument failed in Lexington, and again last summer with Texas’ SCV license plates. Shouting loudly about the First Amendment is probably a good way to raise donations for legal fees, but I doubt it will get very far in the courtroom in this case.
I don’t know enough details of the monuments’ situation in New Orleans to make any predictions as to how this will all end up. I do expect the City of New Orleans to put up a vigorous defense, beginning with a challenge to the plaintiffs’ standing. But if the plaintiffs do ultimately succeed in keeping one or more of those monuments in place, I’m sure the ruling’s going to be a highly technical one, like the decision on the Liberty Place monument twenty years ago, based on the convoluted mess of overlapping jurisdictions and conflicting claims of ownership.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.
Update, December 22: TPM’s Tierney Sneed follows up with a story on the coalition of plaintiffs that brought the lawsuit to preserve the monument in New Orleans. She also includes a couple of screencaps of the social media postings by the Louisiana Division of the SCV, including this one:
This is exactly the sort of churlish onanism that undermines every serious argument that heritage advocates might make in a case like this. You can’t be taken seriously when you argue for the nobility of the southern cause and the sanctity of its symbols, and then post silly crap like this as a “defense” of it.
These people are acting like children — angry, angry children.