The Alabama Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling Wednesday in favor of protecting Confederate monuments, ending a years-long battle between Birmingham and the state over the city’s right to cover up the problematic Civil War tributes.
The decision reverses a lower court ruling from January that found a 2017 Alabama law protecting historical monuments from being relocated, renamed, removed or changed was ambiguous and violated Birmingham’s free speech rights.
“This ruling appears to be less about the rule of law and more about politics,” Rick Journey, the director of communications in Birmingham’s office of public information, said in a statement.
The battle began two years ago when Birmingham, a Black-majority city, ordered plywood screens be placed around the base of a 52-foot obelisk recognizing Confederate veterans. The screens blocked the inscriptions honoring the soldiers who had fought to protect slavery. Birmingham was one of several cities across the country to take action against Confederate monuments during a nationwide reckoning on racist symbols and racial violence.
The state’s nine Supreme Court justices concluded Wednesday that the city does not have constitutional rights to free speech and had violated the 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. The city is now required to pay a $25,000 fine.
Steve Marshall, Alabama’s attorney general, celebrated the new ruling.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling is a victory for the Alabama law which seeks to protect historical monuments,” he said in a statement. “The City of Birmingham acted unlawfully when it erected barriers to obstruct the view of the 114-year-old Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Linn Park.”