NEW ORLEANS – Federal agencies will not block the removal of a New Orleans monument that pays tribute to the white supremacist revolt in the Battle of Liberty Place.
New Orleans City Council voted to have the Liberty Monument and three other Confederate statues removed pursuant to section 146-611 of New Orleans city code on Dec. 17, 2015. The code provides that monuments or statues on property owned by the city shall be removed if they honor or praise a person who participated in the killing of public employees or suggest the supremacy of one ethnic or religious group over another.
The Battle of Liberty Place occurred Sept. 14, 1874, when members of the Crescent City White League attacked the New Orleans Metropolitan Police. In 1891, the city of New Orleans erected the obelisk to commemorate the uprising by white supremacists.
The Louisiana Landmarks Society, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, the monumental task committee and Beauregard Camp No. 130 filed a lawsuit to block the removal of the monuments. Attorney for the plaintiffs, John Dunlap, said his clients believe removal of the statues violate their rights under the U.S. and Louisiana Constitutions.
In court papers filed Aug. 26, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) say they have "no further legal or programmatic interest" in preserving the monument.
"The Liberty Monument is not federal property, nor will the city expend federal funds for the proposed removal of the Liberty Monument," the federal attorneys wrote, saying the judge didn't need to require or prohibit the agencies to do anything.
Richard Marksbury, a plaintiff in a separate case filed in July, told the Louisiana Record the reason behind the HUD and ACHP’s inclusion in the original lawsuit against the city was due to an agreement with the federal government created when the city of New Orleans received federal grant money to revitalize streets decades ago.
"The grant money was provided by the government with a contingency that once construction was complete, the city of New Orleans would return any historical statue to, or within a certain number of yards from, it’s original location," Marksbury told the Louisiana Record. "The Liberty monument fell under this contingency.”
The federal agencies’ statement implies the contingency no longer applies, and requested to be dismissed from the lawsuit. Marksbury said while this ruling has no bearing on his case, the recent order to consolidate his case with the monument task committee, does.
“My case has no affiliation with the monument task committee because it has nothing to do with the removal of a statue or monument," he said.
He explained that his suit was filed against Mayor Mitchell Landrieu and City Council Member-At-Large Jason Williams, in their official capacities, because they violated his 14th Amendment rights.
“When I formally complained to the city council that the statue of Andrew Jackson should be removed under the same ordinance, I was ignored," he said. "Under the city’s nuisance ordinance, after receiving a complaint from an elector regarding a statue or monument, the city council must have a hearing and vote whether it should remain or be removed. That didn’t happen. Under the 14th Amendment, all persons under similar circumstances are to be treated alike, and I was not. However, Mayor Landrieu filed under the nuisance ordinance to have four monuments removed, received a hearing the same day and obtained votes to remove them.The law is not being applied equally and fairly.”
Marksbury said the city provided him with an opportunity to speak months after his complaint, but during his speech, a city council member got up and walked out before his 15 minutes were over. The city council never voted.
“The fact that they ignored the law and violated my rights is the basis of my complaint,” Marksbury said.
Landrieu's press secretary C. Hayne Rainey told the Louisiana Record that Marksbury’s lawsuit was unfounded, the city intends to defend its position and has filed a motion to dismiss Marksbury’s suit. Marksbury filed an objection to the defendants’ motion to dismiss stating, “Plaintiff was denied his equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment. The motion to dismiss fails to address how the prime element of the equal protection clause, which directs that 'all persons similarly circumstanced shall be treated alike' does not factually apply to the plaintiff’s complaint."
Marksbury told the Louisiana Record Thursday, Sept. 1, he was notified that the judge canceled his hearing to present his objection to the city's motion to dismiss scheduled on Sept. 7, at the U.S. District Court for Louisiana's Eastern District. He said the judge provided no reasoning behind the cancellation. In response, he filed a sur-reply to his objection to the city's motion to dismiss the same day.
Marksbury said the city's rebuttal to his objection to its motion to dismiss states that he has no claim against it because it never provided Marksbury with a hearing when he filed his complaint under the nuisance ordinance.
The city argues Marksbury’s rights cannot be violated if no hearing was granted because its nuisance ordinance does not require them to provide a hearing. However, Marksbury said the ordinance states if a hearing does take place, city council is then required to vote.
"In my sur-reply to my objection to the city's motion to dismiss, I attached a copy of an email sent to me from Stacy Head, vice president of New Orleans City Council. In the email she provided me with detailed instructions on what to bring to the hearing March 31, 2016. The word she used more than once to describe the meeting was 'hearing'; therefore the city's claim a hearing never took place is simply not true," Marksbury told the Louisiana Record.
Marksbury believes the city is attempting to avoid carrying out its duties of providing him with another hearing and voting on the issue because of the backlash it could experience from its vote.
"If they vote, they have to explain their vote. If they vote to take it down, residents who want to preserve New Orlean's history be upset," Marksbury said. "If they vote to keep it up, they have to explain why Andrew Jackson is not classified as a nuisance given the overwhelming evidence he was as racist as the other four monuments they voted to remove.”
“They are between a rock and a hard place, and all I want them to do is the right thing. They are wasting tax payer dollars to avoid doing the right thing," Marksbury said.
The next hearing on the case is set for Sept. 28 in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals where parties will present their positions regarding a request by plaintiffs for a permanent injunction, which would block the removal of the monuments for the duration of the lawsuit. John Dunlap, attorney for the plaintiffs, did not respond to the Louisiana Record’s request for comment. The Monument Task Committee told the Louisiana Record it has no comment at this time.