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Virginia Supreme Court clears way for removal of Charlottesville's Confederate statues

Virginia Supreme Court clears way for removal of Charlottesville's Confederate statues
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The Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state's prior ban on the removal of war memorials does not apply to those built before 1997, which include two statues of Confederate generals in the city of Charlottesville, paving the way for them to be taken down.

The decision ends a years-long legal battle over the removal of two statues, one of Stonewall Jackson and another of Robert E. Lee, from city parks that previously bore their names. 

"The Statues accepted by the City of Charlottesville in the 1920s were not acquired pursuant to the authority conveyed by [the state law governing the erection and removal of war memorials], so the removal or covering of those statues is not regulated by the prohibitions stated in [the law]," wrote the state Supreme Court in its decision.

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The Charlottesville City Council's original vote to remove the Lee statue in what is now Emancipation Park was followed by the deadly 2017 white nationalist rally and counterprotest in the city, during which self-proclaimed white nationalist James Fields Jr. rammed his car into a crowd of activists, killing a woman named Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. 

Area residents and a group called the Monument Fund sued the city over the vote, and the Charlottesville Circuit Court had sided with their arguments in a case that was ultimately heard by the state's highest court in November. 

In an interview with The Hill, Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said the city is "very excited" to see the roadblocks to getting rid of the statues removed and added that residents are "still grappling" with the implications of other local statues and memorials.

Last year, amid a national push against systemic racism and injustice, Virginia passed a law allowing localities greater freedom on removing monuments to wars and veterans.

The Lee statute, like several still standing in Richmond, has become a popular staging ground for Black Lives Matter protests.