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Group wants to make SC city take down Confederate monument

August 7, 2020 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A group fighting for racial justice and the removal of Confederate statues is suing a South Carolina city, trying to force them to go through with a plan to remove a Confederate statue from a courthouse lawn.

Orangeburg City Council voted to remove the statue from outside the Orangeburg County Courthouse, but only when the city gets permission from the South Carolina Legislature under the 2000 monument protection law called the Heritage Act.

The lawsuit filed by the Orangeburg Revitalization Coalition last month asks a judge to find the Heritage Act unconstitutional because it restricts cities from making their own decisions about things in their city limits.

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The suit also asks a judge to grant the city permission to sell some or all the land around the courthouse so the new, private owners could choose to move the statue of a Confederate soldier put up in 1893 if they wish.

The city did not comment on the lawsuit, but city attorney Jimmy Walsh said they will respond in court papers, according to The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg, which first reported on the lawsuit.

Orangeburg City Council voted last month to seek the approval of the Legislature to move the Confederate statue and remove the name of former Vice President John C. Calhoun from a main highway in town. Calhoun argued before the Civil War that Black people were better off as slaves in America than they would have been in Africa.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson released an opinion in June that the Heritage Act is legal, but a requirement that no monuments be moved or streets renamed without a two-thirds vote by the General Assembly would likely be struck down in June.

Even if that happened, Wilson wrote in his opinion the rest of the law would remain legal with just a majority vote needed. Wilson’s opinion is not binding, but instead an educated guess on how a court might rule if faced with the issue.

Close to a dozen governments and universities across the state have said they plan to ask the Legislature to consider name changes or monument removals when lawmakers return to regular session in January.

The lawsuit was filed by Skyler Hutto, who told the Orangeburg newspaper that while some lawmakers have promised to review the requests, there is no guarantee how fast that will happen or if it will happen at all.

“If the court can confirm that, our city and others across the state will not have to hope for a political resolution that could be a long time coming,” Hutto said,

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.