AG Stein wants Confederate monuments down or moved; awaits request for advisory opinion on law
Posted August 29
By SETH EFFRON
Capitol Broadcasting Opinion Editor
Just who can and cannot legally remove a Confederate monument or memorial in North Carolina – and under what circumstances – remains in legal limbo.
Gov. Roy Cooper has one view of whether state agencies such as University of North Carolina campuses or local government can on their own remove Confederate monuments and memorials, particularly for safety reasons.
“If our university leaders believe there is real risk to public safety, the law allows them to take immediate measures (including removal of monuments),” Cooper said in a letter to UNC officials.
However, UNC officials, as well as other state and local agencies, aren’t quite sure.
“The University has not been given the clear legal authority to act unilaterally,” UNC-Chapel Hill officials said in a statement responding to the governor. “We continue to believe that removing the Confederate Monument is in the best interest of the safety of our campus. … We continue to seek clear guidance and legal authority to act.”
One of the logical people to turn to for guidance is North Carolina’s Attorney General Josh Stein.
But, says Laura Brewer, spokeswoman for Stein’s office, there haven’t been any requests for an advisory opinion. “Should the office be asked, it will conduct a thorough legal review and advise the state agency of its determination,” Brewer said.
Just how does Stein feel about the monument removal issue?
“I believe that these monuments should come down or be moved,” he said in reply to questions from Capitol Broadcasting’s opinion section.
“There are better people to celebrate in our public spaces than those who took up arms against the United States in defense of slavery. Remember that most of these statues were erected in the early 20th century at the height of the tyranny of Jim Crow to express white supremacy,” Stein said.
“To move forward, we should commemorate those who represent the best of America and North Carolina. The Declaration of Independence declared that all people are created equal. As a nation, we’ve been trying to live up to that ideal since our founding, and we have more work to do.”
Brewer said Stein believes local governments should be able to make decisions on the location and status of monuments for themselves. He wants the legislature to repeal the 2015 state law that blocks local agencies from acting on their own.
Stein, without prompting, acknowledged he’d voted for the law (Senate Bill 22) when he was in the state Senate, but says now that his vote was a mistake.
“While he supported the bill’s provisions to protect the flag and ensure public viewing of the Constitution, he believes that he should have voted against it because of the monument provision,” Brewer said.
Last week, University of North Carolina System President Margaret Spellings and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt, suggested in a letter that any action concerning removal of monuments, such as “Silent Sam” on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, needed to be approved by the N.C. Historical Commission.
“It is our understanding that … only the state or the North Carolina Historical Commission – and not UNC-Chapel Hill or the UNC System – may take action to preserve monuments like Silent Sam,” the letter said.
Josh Ellis, Associate Vice President for Media Relations for the UNC system who previously served as communications director for former Gov. Pat McCrory, failed to respond to repeated requests for comment about the status of the issue.