(Brendan Clarey, Liberty Headlines) A New York law firm threatened Wednesday to sue the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill unless they remove a controversial Civil War statue.
Hampton Dellinger, an attorney from the law offices of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, represents 12 UNC students and a professor, as well as the Black Law Students Association, according to local news channel ABC 11.
“We write on behalf of UNC Chapel Hill students to request that you immediately remove the monument of an armed Confederate soldier, known as Silent Sam, from the middle of campus,” Dellinger wrote in a letter which was released Wednesday.
“Silent Sam should go for many reasons including its incompatibility with the ‘inclusive and welcoming environment’ promised by UNC’s nondiscrimination policy,” Dellinger continued. “We are providing legal notice of an additional reason why Silent Sam must come down now: the statue violates federal anti-discrimination laws by fostering a racially hostile learning environment.”
Dellinger formerly served in the administrations of Democrat (and convicted felon) Mike Easley when he was first Attorney General, then Governor, of North Carolina. Dellinger had his own failed Democratic campaign for NC Lieutenant Governor in 2008.
Joel Curran, vice chancellor of university communications at UNC-Chapel Hill, issued a statement that emphasized mutual respect and understanding from both sides regarding the Silent Sam issue.
“We have received the letter and understand that for many people the Confederate Monument’s presence can engender strong emotions, and we are respectful of those emotions,” Curran said in the statement. “While we do not have the unilateral legal authority to move the monument, these students have raised questions about federal civil rights law that will need to be addressed, and we will work with our Board of Trustees and Board of Governors to do so.”
He described the university’s immediate plan.
“In the meantime, the Chancellor’s Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History is developing an interpretive plan for McCorkle Place that will include signage presenting historical context of how the monument was erected as part of a broader effort to tell the honest and accurate history of the University,” Curran said.
This is not the first time that Silent Sam stirred controversy. Last month protesters expressed opposition to the statue, which led to the arrest of two students by university police; before which, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper released a letter to UNC-System President, Margaret Spellings saying that they could remove the statue if it posed a threat.
“If the University and its leadership believe such a dangerous condition is on campus, then the law gives it the authority to address those concerns. State law enforcement and emergency officials remain available to help and support the University as it navigates this process,” Cooper wrote in his letter to Spellings.
But the University determined that the rule Cooper was quoting was out of context and therefore they have no authority to remove the statue, which remains their position on the issue.
“Despite how it is being interpreted in the media, the University has not been given the clear legal authority to act unilaterally. Governor Cooper cites a provision where removal would be permitted if a ‘building inspector’ concludes that physical disrepair of a statue threatens public safety, a situation not present here. The University is now caught between conflicting legal interpretations of the statute from the Governor and other legal experts,” reads the University’s statement issued in response to Cooper.
“Based on law enforcement agencies’ assessments, we continue to believe that removing the Confederate Monument is in the best interest of the safety of our campus, but the University can act only in accordance with the laws of the state of North Carolina,” the statement continued.
Silent Sam was erected in 1913 to honor Confederate UNC alumni who fought in the Civil War.