Judge extends injunction preventing removal of Robert E. Lee statue in Virginia

A judge has extended an injunction preventing Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam from removing a statue of Robert E. Lee.
(Steve Helber / Associated Press)

A judge on Thursday indefinitely extended an injunction preventing the Virginia governor from removing a historic statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Bradley Cavedo made the decision after hearing from attorneys for the state and for the plaintiff in a lawsuit against Gov Ralph Northam. He gave the plaintiff another 21 days to refile a new complaint.

The 12-ton (, 21-foot-tall statue has stood in a prominent spot along Monument Avenue since 1890. Northam, a Democrat, recently ordered its removal earlier this month, citing the pain gripping the country over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who pleaded for air as a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck.


Floyd’s death has sparked global protests that participants have vowed to turn into a sustained movement focused on addressing racial injustice and police brutality. It has also led to an intense reexamination of statues and monuments of historical figures in the South and around the world.

The Lee statue in Richmond has become a rallying point for demonstrators during more than two weeks of protests. The governor has said he’s confident in his authority to remove the statue.

On June 8, Cavedo issued a 10-day injunction barring Northam’s administration from taking down the bronze equestrian statue of the Confederate hero. Cavedo was hearing arguments before deciding to extend the injunction.

The Lee statue sits on a pedestal nearly twice as high as the monument in the grassy center of a large traffic circle on Monument Avenue, a prestigious residential thoroughfare in Richmond. Now cloaked in graffiti, it and other nearby monuments have become a rallying point of more than two weeks of protests and occasional clashes with police.

The statue was unveiled before a massive crowd in May 1890, at a time when the Civil War and Reconstruction were long over, and Jim Crow racial segregation laws were on the rise.


Judge Cavedo wrote that it was in the public interest to delay any action until the resolution of a lawsuit filed by a Virginia man described as a descendant of signatories to an 1890 deed that transferred the statue to the state more than a century ago. The lawsuit argues the state agreed to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” the monument.

The plaintiff, William C. Gregory, later filed a motion seeking a permanent or extended injunction.

Atty. Gen. Mark Herring opposes the move and has also filed court papers arguing that the case should be dismissed. Herring argued in a brief filed Tuesday that the deed does not prevent the governor from removing the statue and does not entitle Gregory to injunctive relief.

“The only question is whether a single plaintiff may call upon the equitable powers of this Court and use 130-year-old documents and inapplicable doctrines of property law to countermand the Governor’s decision. He cannot,” Herring’s brief said.

States and cities across the U.S. are removing Confederate statues amid protests over systemic racism and violence and the killing of George Floyd.

June 19, 2020

It was not immediately clear if the judge would rule from the bench or at a later time.

The Lee statue is one of five Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue, a National Historic Landmark district. Monuments along the avenue have been tagged with messages that say “End police brutality” and “Stop white supremacy.”

Recently, protesters pulled down a century-old statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis that stood along Monument Avenue.


Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney last week announced plans to seek the removal of the other Confederate monuments on the avenue, including statues of Confederate Gens. Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. Those statues sit on city land. The Lee statue is on state property.