This afternoon, the Northern District of Texas’ Judge Fitzwater issued a Temporary Restraining Order (available here) prohibiting the City of Dallas from removing its statue of Robert E. Lee that sits in the City of Dallas’ Lee Park. The City’s work crew had straps around the statue and had been chiseling away at its base at the time the TRO issued. Various news outlets were live streaming the process, and a relatively large crowd had gathered to watch it.
The TRO came about as a result of a lawsuit (available here) brought by Hiram Patterson and the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, Inc. Plaintiffs allege that, this morning, the Dallas City Council voted to remove the statute, but the Council’s actions violate the First Amendment. According to the lawsuit:
The Confederate Monument was erected to express a controversial political opinion. The City’s plan to remove the Monument in a matter of hours is an imminent and unconstitutional attempt to curtail free speech by ordaining what mute political symbols must mean. The City’s planned suppression of the Monuments’ political speech is a ﬁrst step in a totalitarian move to determine authorized forms of political communication and to punish unauthorized political speech. The City has expressed no compelling interest in the abridgment of this core political speech.
The lawsuit also alleges that the Council’s actions violated the Constitution’s Due Process clause because, per Plaintiffs,
The Dallas City Council is preventing meaningful hearing of public opinion on the removal of Confederate Monuments by voting on the Monuments’ removal in a manner not permitted under City Council Rules. These Rules were promulgated in order to provide fair notice and opportunity to appear before the Council. However, when the City Council votes in a brieﬁng session and not during an agenda session, the City Council is purposefully avoiding public participation of a highly controversial issue that public polling shows favors the retention of these Confederate Monuments. The Council’s removal votes in a procedurally improper hearing creates unfairness to the public that the Council represents.
Judge Fitzwater has set a hearing on Plaintiffs’ TRO request for tomorrow (September 7, 2017) at 1:30 p.m. While I generally avoid commenting on the merits of lawsuits, I give this one no chance of success. The Plaintiffs may lack standing to bring the lawsuit, and, of course, a city can generally determine what monuments its wishes to erect—or keep—on its own property.