In a victory for the University of Texas, the state Supreme Court on Friday rejected a legal challenge to the 2015 removal of a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the school’s Main Mall.
The decision, announced without comment, let stand a ruling by the Texarkana-based 6th Court of Appeals that tossed out a lawsuit by the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and a descendant of Maj. George Washington Littlefield, a UT benefactor and Confederate officer.
The lawsuit argued that UT President Gregory L. Fenves’ decision to remove statues depicting Davis and President Woodrow Wilson violated the terms of Littlefield’s donations of land, buildings and money to UT and damaged the Southern heritage of those who had pledged to “protect and remember his family’s home and battlefield sacrifices to the cause of Southern independence,” according to court briefs.
The appeals court, however, ruled in March 2016 that Littlefield’s descendant and the Sons of Confederate Veterans lacked standing to sue Fenves over the removal — a decision that the state’s highest civil court upheld Friday.
“UT believed our position before the court was strong, and we are pleased with the court’s action,” university spokesman J.B. Bird said.
In 2015, Fenves said he ordered the Davis statue removed from its limestone pedestal because it was no longer in the university’s best interest to memorialize the Confederate leader on one of the most prominent locations on campus.
It was about two months after an avowed white supremacist shot nine black church members to death in South Carolina, and tolerance for Confederate symbols and monuments had waned. An advisory panel and a UT Student Government resolution pressed for the change, and the9-foot-tall bronze statue was later installed in a museum on campus.
The statue of Wilson, the nation’s 28th president, stood opposite from Davis and was moved to maintain symmetry on the mall. It was placed into storage and is awaiting a decision on where to display it.
When Fenves ordered the Davis statue taken down in 2015, he allowed four others to remain on the South Mall that depicted Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston; Confederate Postmaster John H. Reagan; and James Stephen Hogg, the first native-born governor of Texas and the son of a Confederate general.
The four had deeper ties to Texas than did Davis, Fenves had said.
Last month, however, Fenves ordered the four statues removed in response to the deadly protests involving a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Va.
“The display of hatred and violent actions by white supremacists in Charlottesville reaffirms our need to reject racism, bigotry and discrimination in all forms,” Fenves said. “There is no place in American society for ideologies that deny the equality of others.”
The Sons of Confederate Veterans and descendant Steven Littlefield of Montana responded with a lawsuit, this time in federal court, challenging that action.
That case is still in the early stages.