Last legal barrier to removing Confederate monuments overcome as judge shoots down preservationists’ request

A federal judge in New Orleans on Tuesday removed what may be the final hurdle in Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s controversial push to take down four public monuments related to the Confederacy.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier denied a request for a temporary restraining order against the city. His ruling said the plaintiffs in a lawsuit aimed at keeping the monuments in place failed to show that removing them while the lawsuit played out would cause irreparable harm or that taking the action would ultimately break the law or violate the Constitution.

Barbier added that his decision was not a comment on “the wisdom, or lack thereof, of the actions taken by” the mayor or the City Council, which voted 6-1 in December to have the monuments removed.

In a statement, the Mayor’s Office said, “We are pleased with the court’s sound ruling on this issue,” adding that the statues will be stored in a city-owned warehouse “until further plans can be developed for a private park or museum site where the monuments can be put in a fuller context.”

The monuments in question honor Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis and a white militia group that rebelled against the state’s biracial Reconstruction-era government.

City officials had said they would not remove the statues until Barbier’s ruling, although they did not provide details Tuesday about how quickly they would proceed. The original contractor hired to remove the statues quit after receiving death threats.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Franklin Jones, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether his clients would appeal Barbier’s ruling. The lawsuit was brought by the Monumental Task Force Committee, Louisiana Landmarks Society, Foundation for Historical Louisiana and Beauregard Camp No. 130.

Tuesday’s decision was not a surprise. At a hearing earlier this month, Jones argued that the risk of damaging the statues while taking them down justified a restraining order. But Barbier did not appear swayed by that reasoning. He pointed out that the expert cited by Jones worked in offshore rigging and had never actually moved a statue. He also recalled how officials used a helicopter to remove and replace the Statue of Freedom atop the U.S. Capitol in order to perform repairs.

Further, Barbier cast doubt on whether the preservationists behind the suit could prove they had a chance of winning at a full trial.

The plaintiffs employed a wide range of somewhat esoteric arguments, claiming for instance that nearby streetcar work should entitle the monuments to protection under federal preservation statutes or that volunteers who have done restoration work on the statues have gained partial ownership over them.

Barbier subjected their case to a series of skeptical questions, at one point remarking, “I don’t even understand your argument.”

That hearing took place the same day New Orleans officials announced that the Baton Rouge company hired to remove the statues had received death threats and quit the project. Five days later, a $200,000 Lamborghini belonging to the owner of the company, H&O Investments, was found burned to the ground in the firm’s parking lot.

Landrieu first called for the monuments in question to come down in June following a shooting by a white supremacist that killed nine people in a South Carolina church.

Six months later, all but one City Council member — Stacy Head — voted to declare the monuments public nuisances, subject to removal.

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