BIRMINGHAM, AL (WSFA) - A Jefferson County judge has ruled the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act unconstitutional two years after the state legislature passed the measure in order to protect Confederate era monuments on public land from being moved or altered.
Judge Michael Graffeo ruled late Monday that the 2017 law violates the free speech rights of local communities and said it could not be disputed that most citizens of predominantly-black Birmingham are “repulsed” by the monument at the heart of the lawsuit.
Following the law’s implementation, then-Birmingham Mayor William Bell had the 52-foot-tall Confederate statue covered with a massive plywood case. The statue has stood in the city’s downtown Linn Park since 1905.
Bell’s decision prompted the state to file a lawsuit claiming the city’s decision to cover the monument was illegal based on the law’s determination it couldn’t be moved or altered. The law also allowed for fines of $25,000 daily
As fervor grew across the country to remove Confederate monuments from their prominent locations in many cities, Alabama’s legislature acted. While the law does not specifically state that it is for Confederate monuments, it is written to cover historically significant buildings and monuments that are older than 40 years. That language would subsequently cover the vast majority of statues erected to honor the Confederate era.
State Senator Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, sponsored the Memorial Preservation Act when it was being moved through the Legislature. He said the law “is meant to thoughtfully preserve the entire story of Alabama’s history for future generations” and added that it “was vigorously debated for months by the people of Alabama’s duly-elected representatives in the State Legislature, and passed with overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate.”
Allen took issue with the judge’s ruling, stating:
“Under the Constitution, judges are to be neutral umpires who apply the rule of law fairly. A judge’s personal beliefs, whether about politics, sociology, or history, have no bearing on how he is to apply the law. Judge Graffeo has taken it upon himself to know and declare that it is “undisputed” that the majority of residents of Birmingham are “repulsed” by the Linn Park monument, and has thus ruled the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act void. But judges are not kings, and judicial activism is no substitute for the democratic process."
It’s not clear when the City of Birmingham will move forward with removal of the statue, where it would be placed, or if any immediate action will even be made.
While Judge Graffeo said the state’s law can’t be enforced, he did say the ruling can be appealed.
Tuesday morning, Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office said it would do just that saying the office “stands by its original assessment that the Alabama Monument Preservation Act is constitutional. Therefore, we will be filing an appeal."
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify the legislation’s sponsor as state Senator Gerald Allen, not Gerald Dial.