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Judge Blocking Removal of Monuments Criticized Desegregation Efforts 40 Years Ago

Workers dismantle  Soldiers and Sailors monument.
Workers dismantle the base of the Soldiers and Sailors monument. (Photo: Coleman Jennings/VPM News)

As racial justice protests continue around the country, many communities have taken steps to remove symbols of white supremacy. But in Richmond, one local judge has blocked efforts to remove Confederate monuments in the city.   

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Bradley B. Cavedo ruled last month that Gov. Ralph Northam can’t take down the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue. 

And last week Cavedo ruled Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney can’t remove any more confederate statues for 60 days.  The order protects one remaining statue in Richmond -- that of Confederate General A.P. Hill

Brad Kutner has been following these lawsuits and he’s been inside the courtroom for all of the hearings. Brad’s a reporter for Courthouse News Service -- a national wire service for legal news. 

Transcript: 

EVANS: Brad, can you break down these two rulings for us? 

KUTNER: So both of them dealt with private individuals filing suit over the authority that either Northam or Mayor Stoney has to remove the monuments. And in this case, Cavedo found that both parties, both leaders did not have that authority. 

EVANS: There’s a strong case to be made that Judge Cavedo personally does not want these statues to come down. During court hearings, he called the subjects of these monuments “American War Veterans” and said the Lee monument “belongs to the people.” 

And just last week an op-ed Cavedo wrote in college surfaced, where he criticizes desegregation efforts and automatic voter registration. 

What can you tell us about this piece?

KUTNER: It was first posted by Del. Lamont Bagby, who leads the Legislative Black Caucus here. It was an interesting look at how a man who has the authority to overrule the will of a duly- elected governor and mayor has expressed some controversial opinions in the past. And even in our own editorial room, when we were working on the story, there were some concerns about bringing up 40-year-old op-eds from somebody in college. But in the end, we decided that when somebody has this kind of authority and takes that kind of authority, and specifically mentions the abuse of judicial power in the op-ed, I mean, when he was discussing the dangers or the burdens of busing, he experienced, he blamed paternal federal courts, which, Michael Paul Williams pointed out in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this weekend, he's taking the same paternal steps to essentially legislate from the bench.

EVANS: It’s important to mention that both Brad and I separately reached out to Judge Cavedo’s office for a comment on this issue and neither of us have received a response. And that’s not unusual. Judges typically don’t speak to the press. 

But Brad, what have these hearings been like? How has the judge responded to arguments from the state and city that these statues should come down?

KUTNER: Cavedo’s actions in the Northam hearing were surprisingly aggressive and very much in support of the statue. But the Stoney hearing was unique in that I've never seen a judge work so strongly on behalf of a plaintiff in a case. Cavedo seemed willing to go to any limits to keep those statues in place if not to specifically override Stoney's authority. When the war monument removal law changed on July 1, it changed some specifics about how lawsuits could be filed in such disputes. And Judge Cavedo seemed not at all interested in the legality of the situation. And more interested in the ability of the city to maintain these statues, no matter what the people say. 

EVANS: That’s Brad Kutner. He’s been following the legal fight over confederate statues in Richmond. He’s a reporter for Courthouse News Service, a national wire service for legal news. 

*CORRECTION: This machine transcript was lightly edited for a few typos after publication.