MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the majority-black city of Birmingham cannot remove or alter a towering Confederate monument in a city park.
The all-Republican court reversed a circuit judge’s ruling that declared Alabama’s law protecting Confederate monuments an unconstitutional violation of the free speech rights of local communities. Justices directed the judge to instead enter an order declaring that Birmingham violated the 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, and to fine the city $25,000.
Alabama sued Birmingham in 2017 after municipal officials erected a wooden box obscuring the inscriptions on a 52-foot-tall (16-meter-tall) obelisk honoring Confederate veterans.
The 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act prohibits relocating, removing, altering or renaming public buildings, streets and memorials that have been standing for more than 40 years. The legislation doesn’t specifically mention Confederate monuments, but it was enacted as some Southern states and cities began removing monuments and emblems of the Confederacy.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo ruled in January in favor of the city, which is more than 70 percent black. Striking down the law, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo said it was indisputable that most citizens are “repulsed” by the memorial.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall appealed, and the justices reversed the trial judge, ruling that a state law trumps a city action. Graffeo erred in concluding a local government was excused from the law because of a right to free speech, the top court said.
“Photographs of the monument included in the record taken before and after the placement of the plywood screen confirm that the 12-foot plywood screen around the base of the monument completely blocks the view of all inscriptions on the monument,” justices wrote.