NEW ORLEANS — The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeal on Friday barred New Orleans from removing three monuments to Confederate leaders while a lawsuit challenging the city is still before the court.
The statutes, of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard, were ordered taken down after the city council voted in December to declare them public nuisances.
Various groups are challenging the city, claiming the move violates the U.S and Louisiana constitutions.
Friday's court ruling overturned an earlier ruling that the statutes can be taken down while a federal lawsuit continues.
John Dunlap, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, told the Louisiana Record on Monday that the 5th Circuit granted the injunction "because it found that my clients made a strong showing that they are likely to succeed on the merits of the law case.”
The Louisiana Landmarks Society, Monumental Task Committee, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana and Beauregard Camp No. 130 jointly filed the lawsuit against the city.
Dunlap said in an emailed statement that it was likely the statues would be irreparably damaged if removed by the city.
The appeals court ruling overturns one made by District Judge Carl Barbier, who ruled in February the city could move ahead with removing the monuments while the lawsuit is ongoing.
“The court also considered the fact that the city will not be injured by leaving the statues in place during the litigation,” Dunlap said. “We pointed the court to significant errors in the law contained in the district judge's opinion, which are the subject of this appeal. It makes only sense to keep the status quo while the issues are litigated.”
New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 to remove the statutes and a fourth monument, one that remembers a 1874 insurrection against reconstruction. The vote came after months of public debate and campaigning by those supportive of the moves, and those decrying the plan to take them down.
“My clients believe that the city's actions with respect to the enactment and enforcement of the Nuisance Ordinance violate their rights under the U.S. and Louisiana Constitutions," Dunlap said.
Pierre McGraw, president of the Monumental Task Force board, issued a statement Friday afternoon, welcoming the decision of the appeals court, which “acknowledges that removing the monuments is premature.”
“This action will allow for a full review of the constitutional and statutory issues at stake in this case," McGraw said.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who has championed the removal of the monuments, has been unable to hire a contractor. One picked by the city backed out amid claims of threats. His car was destroyed in a suspicious fire.
In an email to the Times-Picayune newspaper, the mayor’s communication director, Sarah McLaughlin, said “the city is evaluating the implications that this ruling may have on the bid process."
A separate state court action over whether the use of a public nuisance ordinance is constitutional is continuing. A lower court ruled against the plaintiffs.
“The state court action differs from the federal court action in that it tests whether the city's exercise of its police power is reasonable under ... the Louisiana Constitution of 1974," Dunlap said.
The lower court decision is on appeal to the Louisiana 4th Circuit.
"I anticipate that either side will ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to review the decision by the 4th Circuit no matter the ruling,” Dunlap said.