Jefferson County Judge Michael Graffeo ruled that the state of Alabama’s Memorial Preservation Act is unconstitutional because it limits the free speech rights of cities.
The City of Birmingham wants to remove the historic Confederate veterans memorial in Linn Park but was blocked from doing so by the state legislature.
Former state Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) sponsored the Memorial Preservation Act in the Alabama House. Butler said in a statement: “In a very cowardly act Judge Graffeo entered a ruling 20 minutes before midnight which was 20 minutes before his retirement from office. His ruling is NOT binding other than to the original parties until appealed through the process. Only our State Supreme Court or US Supreme Court can declare a law unconstitutional. The fact he made his ruling 20 minutes before retirement speaks volumes. Agree or disagree but only the legislature can make law.”
Mike Williams, the President of the Legislative and Historical Protection Group, expressed confidence that Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall would appeal the controversial ruling.
“The recent ruling by a Birmingham judge that the Memorial Preservation Act of 2017 is a violation of cities rights to free speech, is merely another attempt at activism,” Williams said in a statement. “We feel sure that the Attorney General of Alabama will appeal this ruling and that the law will prevail. The Legislative and Historical Protection Group will be actively in contact with the Attorney General Steve Marshall, and with the legislature to see that this activist on the court is not allowed to change laws from the bench.”
The Memorial Preservation Act was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa).
“Under the Constitution, judges are to be neutral umpires who apply the rule of law fairly. A judge’s personal beliefs, whether about politics, sociology, or history, have no bearing on how he is to apply the law,” Sen. Allen said in a statement. “Judge Graffeo has taken it upon himself to know and declare that it is “undisputed” that the majority of residents of Birmingham are “repulsed” by the Linn Park monument, and has thus ruled the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act void. But judges are not kings, and judicial activism is no substitute for the democratic process.”
“The Memorial Preservation Act is meant to thoughtfully preserve the entire story of Alabama’s history for future generations,” Allen added. “The law was vigorously debated for months by the people of Alabama’s duly-elected representatives in the State Legislature, and passed with overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate. The Attorney General’s Office is confident that the Memorial Preservation Act is constitutional, and I look forward to the Attorney General’s appeal of Judge Graffeo’s ruling.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) however applauded the ruling.
“Striking a blow to the defenders of the “Lost Cause,” a judge has struck down an Alabama law that prevented the removal of Confederate symbols from public land,” the SPLC wrote in a statement. “Yesterday’s ruling is the first time a court has concluded that a state cannot force a city to maintain a confederate monument that its citizens find abhorrent. Cities have long been at the forefront of our nation’s civil rights movements, and this ruling protects and builds on that tradition. The Circuit Court ruled that Birmingham has a constitutionally protected right to decide for itself what messages it wants to convey to its citizens and to the world. Alabama’s majority-white legislature cannot force Birmingham, a majority-black city, to maintain a monument to white supremacy. This is a groundbreaking ruling that should give comfort to other municipalities throughout the South and the country that want to remove confederate monuments from public land. “