In the wee morning hours of Monday
, August 21, University of Texas at Austin President Gregory Fenves gave workers the green light to remove four prominent statues from UT's South Mall. The statues, including Robert E. Lee, represented men directly linked to the Confederacy. Fenves said his decision was motivated by the "horrific displays of hatred" seen at the University of Virginia campus and in Charlottesville the weekend before.
Unsurprisingly, this didn't sit well with the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. So on Wednesday, the group sued Fenves for using his "Orwellian agenda" to remove the "political speech expressed in the statues."
The complaint explains that these four statues were donated to UT in 1920 by Confederate army Officer George Littlefield with the explicit intention to "communicate the Southern understanding of American history and the Civil War." Removing such statues, the SCV argue, contradicts Littlefield's agreement with the university. Steven Littlefield, a descendant of the wealthy officer, is a member of SCV.
In removing the statues, they write, Fenves "has breached the university's long-standing promotion of American history from the Southern perspective."
But if history plays any role in this ruling, it's not going to be in their favor.
That's because the SCV brought the same lawsuit against UT when officials removed a Jefferson Davis statue
(another lovely gift from Littlefield) from the main lawn in 2015 — and lost. The appeals court ruled that UT has no obligation to make Littlefield's statues permanent, and could honestly do whatever they wanted with them. The court threw out the SCV's argument, which is nearly identical to their complaint filed Wednesday.
The complaint claims that Fenves' decision violates the "Texas Monument Protection Act" — a measure protecting monuments to Texas military veterans. That law, however, explicitly excludes
monuments to Confederate soldiers.
SCV's case makes Fenves out to be some kind of unbridled wildcard, making this decision without any foresight, let alone legal aid. But in an interview with the Austin American-Statesman,
UT Austin's chief lawyer Patti Ohlendorf said Fenves' decision was "legally sound" — and he consulted with a number of people before making the call.