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Arguments heard in legal battle over Birmingham's confederate monument

A Jefferson County Judge heard oral arguments Friday in the State of Alabama's lawsuit against the City of Birmingham over the confederate memorial in Linn Park. The Attorney General's Office argues the black box violates the Memorial Preservation Act. (abc3340.com)

Attorneys for the City of Birmingham and the State of Alabama spent three hours on Friday presenting their arguments in the legal battle over the city's confederate monument in Linn Park.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo was tasked with hearing one of the first legal challenges of the Memorial Preservation Act of 2017. The state law, passed after the removal of confederate statues across the South, preserves all monuments 40 years or older from relocation, removal, alteration, renaming, or other disturbance. Monuments between 20-39 years can be altered if a waiver is granted by the Committee on Alabama Monument Protection.

The legal battle came to Birmingham in August 2017 when former Mayor William Bell erected a black box around the base of the confederate statue in Linn Park. The decision came in the days following the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Bell, according to city lawyers, did not violate Alabama's Memorial Preservation Act because the box is not touching the monument, so it did not by definition alter it. City attorneys argued the Mayor was also protecting the monument while also trying to prevent civil unrest within Linn Park. Conversely, lawyers also argued that the monument is offensive to many Birmingham residents.

"That act is just a bad law," said city attorney.

The city strongest argument perhaps came against the inability for local government's to seek waivers to alter or remove monuments over 40 years old. This would include virtually all confederate monuments. City attorneys argued this could be a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Judge Graffeo gave the city until May 4th to submit an additional brief supporting their argument. The State of Alabama will then have three weeks to respond.

The Attorney General's Office is seeking a declaratory judgment which would mean the city could face a $25,000 fine for "each violation." Both parties agree the law's language about the fines is open to interpretation but if each day was considered a new violation than the State would be able to currently seek more than $6 million in damages.

In August, Attorney General Steve Marshall told ABC 33/40 News he does not believe the total amount of the fine would rise while the case is litigated. "This is not an effort to punish the City of Birmingham financially."

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