New Orleans: Contractor quits Confederate monument removal after death threats

FILE-In this In this Sept. 2, 2015 file photo, the Robert E. Lee Monument is seen in Lee Circle in New Orleans. New Orleans is poised to make a sweeping break with its Confederate past as it contemplates removing prominent Confederate monuments now standing on some of its busiest streets. On Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, the City Council is set to vote on an ordinance to remove four monuments. A majority of council members and the mayor support the move, which would be one of the strongest gestures yet by American city to sever ties with Confederate history. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

NEW ORLEANS (WWL) — A federal judge heard and weighed arguments whether the city can legally remove Confederate-era monuments, and didn’t appear swayed by arguments to keep the monuments standing.

During the two hour and 30-minute hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier heard arguments after several plaintiffs, including the Monumental Task Force, went to court to block the city’s plan to remove four Confederate monuments.

Preservationists are looking for an injunction, stopping the city from removing the statues of Robert E. Lee, P.T.G. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis and the Liberty Place monument, which city attorneys called “monuments to white supremacy” during the hearing.

“It looked to me like the city was on stronger ground,” said Donald “Chick” Foret, WWL-TV legal analyst. “The preservationists are on very weak ground. They don’t have any law, they don’t have any evidence. The judge was searching trying to find some jurisdiction. To get into this building, you’ve got to have federal jurisdiction, some federal law that applies, and the judge said he just didn’t see it.”

Barbier appeared perplexed by the arguments to block the removal of the monuments, adding that he didn’t understand what arguments preservationists were trying to make and how it applied to federal laws.

Barbier said he wouldn’t rule Thursday. A written ruling by Barbier may come in days or weeks, but Foret expected the injunction to get tossed out of federal court, leaving the preservationists with only state court as an avenue to keep the city from taking down the monuments.

The judge appeared to steamroll and reject several angles that preservationists argued, such as due process was ignored, the monuments were on the national historic registry, the nuisance ordinance of the city is unconstitutional, and federal monies were used for RTA for the streetcars. Barbier was unimpressed and punched holes in each argument, Foret said.

When Barbier asked the city attorneys what the city would do with the statues if they were allowed to take them down, attorneys said they would move them from public property and to a historical area.

But they will have to find a new company to remove the statues. A contractor who was going to do the work pulled out of the process after receiving death threats, city attorneys said.

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