The Jefferson Davis statue was not removed from the Main Mall this morning, as originally planned, due to a temporary restraining order requested by the Texas division of Sons of Confederate Veterans. Though not required to stay its plans, the University chose to delay the statue’s removal and relocation until the temporary restraining order could be reviewed by a district judge, folding to the reactionary whims of a group whose legal recourse can be described as shaky at best.
As it was determined in June, President Fenves is empowered in his role as University president to decide the fate of the Jefferson Davis statue, a determination that the Sons of Confederate Veterans have not formally challenged until now. So when the Sons of Confederate Veterans alleged in its temporary restraining order that the statue is irrevocably protected by the Littlefield will — which does not stipulate that the statues must stay in place, according to a redacted version of the will obtained by The Dallas Morning News — they contradicted the document that they cited. And when they alleged that the decision belongs to either the Texas Legislature, the Texas Historical Commission or the State Preservation Board, they also retroactively challenged the character and structure of a months-long struggle that their members actively participated in. At best, this is a case of being sore losers. At worst, this is a frivolous legal challenge that comes dangerously close to a boldfaced attempt to will the group’s whims into legal reality.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans’ spokesman Marshall Davis said, “Of course we want the Jefferson Davis statue to stay, but we filed this because of the hastiness of [Fenves’] decision. In this order, we want all the parties to look at the ramifications and the original intent.”
The University has spent countless hours, money and resources examining the ramifications and original intent of the statue — it was called the Task Force on Historical Representation of Statuary at UT Austin. For anyone who has paid attention to the five weeks of deliberation by the task force, or tuned into the debate over the Jefferson Davis statue at any point in its months-long tenure, one would realize this decision was anything but hasty. In fact, when one considers that vandalism of and protests against the statue began in the 1940s, it is easy to see that this decision is long overdue.
I understand that the administration yielded to this temporary restraining order, which may or may not be valid due to its ambivalent claims, because it might have wanted to be respectful of a group that so consistently participated in this debate. I understand that the administration likely aimed to choose a moderate path in the face of such hysteria. But the University should not pander to the childishness of this group. And a district judge should be swift in his or her determination of this restraining order’s validity.
For me — a student on the 40 Acres who has witnessed the group's active involvement throughout the debate — the group’s decision to retroactively challenge the debate's structure and take the University to court on the basis of a weak legal foundation is outrageous.
This issue has been debated, deliberated on and determined after decades of unrest on the statue’s presence on campus. This has been a painful debate for many. The very nature of this sensitive subject is that not everyone can be happy with its resolution. That does not justify a frivolous lawsuit, and it certainly does not speak well of the members involved.
Smith is the editor-in-chief. She is a history and humanities major from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @claireseysmith.