Miss. Code. Ann. § 55-15-81 is the statute the Sons of Confederate Veterans relies upon. Relating to “Any Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, War Between the States, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, War in Iraq or Native American War’s”, the statute provides:
(1) None of the following items, structures or areas may be relocated, removed, disturbed, altered, renamed or rededicated: …statues, monuments, memorials or nameplates (plaques), which have been erected on public property of the state or any of its political subdivisions, … such as local, municipal or county owned public areas, and any statues, monuments, memorials, nameplates (plaques), schools, streets, bridges, buildings, parks preserves, reserves or other public items, structure… which have been dedicated in memory of, or named for, any historical military figure, historical military event, military organization or military unit.
So. A series of “items” “on public property” may not be “removed… renamed.” Those items include “nameplates (plaques)” and “streets…”
That clearly suggest that nameplates and streets cannot be removed or renamed when on public property. And nameplates or plaques can’t be “altered.”
I cannot imagine that a court would hold that the addition of explanatory plaques would be barred by this statute, but I assume that is what the SCV will argue.
What can’t be removed, renamed, or altered? Those “which have been dedicated to the memory of or named for, any historical military figure, historical military event, military organization or military unit.” Hmmm. The Confederate statute is certainly “dedicated to the memory of… any military organization or military unit”– it’s all about the University Grays, isn’t it? But what about Confederate Drive? Not named after a figure or event, certainly, and not really a military organization or unit. Really just indicated it was (and is no longer) the road to the cemetery. Is naming the road “Confederate” by itself naming it for a military organization or unit?
The statute then preserves the right of the pubic body to maintain, preserve, or restore the items, and to move them to a “more suitable location.”
(2) No person may prevent the public body responsible for maintaining any of the items, structures or areas described above from taking proper measures and exercising proper means for the protection, preservation, care, repair or restoration of those items, structures or areas. The governing body may move the memorial to a more suitable location if it is determined that the location is more appropriate to displaying the monument.
The first thing that jumps out at me is the first four words: “No person may prevent….” This clearly bars anyone from interfering with some actions a public body may take. Does it imply a right of action relating to other actions apparently covered by the first section? (I don’t think so but am open to arguments to the contrary). But the balance of the statute does make clear that a public body can make a finding and move the “memorial” to “a more suitable location” if it is “more appropriate…” That would certainly allow the University to move the Confederate statute if it made an appropriate finding. But I don’t think they have any intention of doing that.
Where does that leave the claims? The statute seems to clearly prohibit the renaming of a street that is a memorial to a military unit, but may not cover something as generic as “Confederate” because that is not a “military organization or unit.” The statute would not allow altering the monument itself (but does not seem to prohibit adding explanatory plaques). Section (2) may suggest by implication a private right of action to section (1), by prohibiting anyone contesting some actions that might seem barred under section (1) but not otherwise, but I think not. The suggestion is far from explicit.
For those who want to read the statute straight through, the full text is blow the fold.
Continue reading Notes on the Confederate Memorial Lawsuit: What the statute says