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Groups praise State Supreme Court’s ruling on Covington Confederate statue
Area resident says case now can be ‘tried on the facts’

COVINGTON, Ga. — Those seeking to stop Newton County’s removal of a century-old memorial to Confederate soldiers praised the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling that a Covington resident can continue her two-year legal fight to keep the statue standing.

Both Covington resident Tiffany Humphries and the Georgia chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said they were happy a 2020 lawsuit seeking to stop Newton County’s planned removal of the statue would now return to the Superior Court level and be “tried on the facts and the law.”

“Today’s decision is proof that our system works,” Humphries said, after the Oct. 25 ruling was released.  

The state’s highest court overturned a state Court of Appeals decision and ruled that Humphries was the only plaintiff who could continue a lawsuit seeking to enjoin Newton County from removing the “To the Confederate Dead of Newton County” statue from the park in the middle of the Covington Square.

The justices ruled that the plaintiffs — including Humphries and the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — must have had legal standing to sue the county by showing they resided in Newton County and would be harmed in some way by the county government removing a monument in violation of state law.  

Among the plaintiffs only Humphries had shown she was a resident of Newton County, the justices stated in the ruling.

The Confederate Veterans group’s Georgia division said in a statement it was “pleased with the opinion as it clarifies the law as to standing and paves the way for successful litigation in the future.”

“It also makes clear that injunctive relief is a valid remedy for plaintiffs, ending those defenses raised by a number of county and city governments.”

Professor Fred Smith Jr. of the Emory University School of Law said he believes the ruling opens the door for the Confederate Veterans groups to find individuals willing to file injunction lawsuits similar to Humphries.

He said he did not believe Newton County can appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court because the state Supreme Court acted on an alleged violation of state law.

The Court decided Humphries had legal standing for the injunction based on past interpretations of how legal standing is established in Georgia courts — rather than the standard established in federal courts used by the Superior Court and Court of Appeals, he said.  

“They’re saying our traditions differ,” Smith said.

The justices noted in the ruling that the state law in question, OCGA 50-3-1, “prohibits the relocation, removal, concealment or alteration of a monument, and makes liable any conduct that damages, destroys, loses a monument or removes one without replacement.” 

“Government at all levels has a legal duty to follow the law ... and the violation of that legal duty constitutes an injury that our case law has recognized as conferring standing to those community stakeholders, even if the plaintiff suffered no individualized injury,” the ruling stated.

“Applying that framework to this case, (Tiffany) Humphries, as a private citizen, has standing to assert a claim for injunctive relief against her local county government for its planned removal of a Confederate monument in alleged violation of (state law). 

“But the other plaintiffs — the various Sons of Confederate Veterans entities — have not shown that they are members of the communities the governments of which they seek to sue, and they have alleged no other cognizable injury sufficient to establish their standing. 

“The various Sons of Confederate Veterans groups did not allege that they are citizens, residents or taxpayers of any county, much less the counties that they sued. 

“The Court of Appeals was therefore wrong to affirm the dismissal of Humphries’s complaint for a lack of standing as to her claim for injunctive relief, but it was right to affirm the dismissal of the complaints filed by the various Sons of Confederate Veterans groups.”

But the ruling also stated that none of the plaintiffs could collect damages they sought in their original lawsuit — first filed in July 2020 — from Newton County government because they could not prove they had been harmed in some way by the Covington statue’s removal because it is still standing, they said.

Newton County government officials did not return requests for comment on the ruling.