In 1864, as the Civil War raged, the U.S. Congress set out to establish a collection of statues, two from each state, depicting “illustrious” citizens deemed worthy of “national commemoration.”
The resulting 100 statues include men and women, early colonists, teachers, U.S. presidents, and an astronaut, each representing a piece of our nation’s short, complex history.
Case in point: South Carolina is represented in the U.S. Capitol by John C. Calhoun (placed in 1910) and Wade Hampton (placed in 1929), pro-slavery politicians who figured prominently in the state’s history period around the Civil War.
Some 479 miles south of Washington, in the S.C. Statehouse burned by Sherman’s march, memorials and monuments “erected on public property of the State” are blocked from changes by the Heritage Act, a law requiring a two-thirds majority to do just about anything besides scrub ’em clean. But there’s nothing in S.C. law that protects the Calhoun and Hampton monuments on Capitol Hill, though the issue has never been officially considered. And that means that one or both of those statues could be swapped out if the House and Senate could muster a simple majority (50% + 1) and earn the support of Gov. Henry McMaster.
The process for replacing the statues is laid out pretty clearly by the Architect of the Capitol, but it puts the move pretty squarely on respective state governments to spearhead the effort. Democrats on the Hill have proposed removing all Confederate monuments from the Capitol since white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Va. over a statue of Robert E. Lee turned deadly, but it’s not clear that those proposals will gain any traction.
Of course, there are plenty of roadblocks that could halt the process in S.C., too. Even if the legislature signs on, if McMaster isn’t on board, legislators are back to needing the supermajority to override his veto. If there’s political will to change the statues but both chambers and the governor can’t agree on a S.C. historical figure “worthy of this national commemoration,” that could stall things. And with the current debate centering on whether, not how, monuments to racists should be removed or explained, the idea might be a nonstarter altogether.
In 2016, Florida lawmakers voted to remove one of its statues to a Confederate general in the U.S. Capitol in the wake of the white supremacist murders at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston a year earlier. But a decision on who to replace CSA Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith with has reportedly been tied up in committee.
Sen. Marlon Kimpson, who is in favor of repealing the Heritage Act, said last week that some lawmakers may feel they need “political cover” to discuss the issue of changing memorials with the Heritage Act on the books. [content-1]”I’m not sure we get there gauging the appetite of the majority of members in the House and Senate,” Kimpson said, discussing repeal of the Heritage Act.
A pending legal challenge to the constitutionality of the Act contends that the law’s two-thirds majority requirement creates an “artificial barrier” that “stops the people of the state from participating in the democratic process,” according to Charleston civil rights attorney Armand Derfner, who is involved in the case.
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