COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – On Thursday, SC Attorney General Alan Wilson issued an opinion on regarding the Constitutionality of the Heritage Act, specifically regarding how the Act was factored in to the removal of the John C. Calhoun statue.
Wilson said that overall, the Heritage Act is constitutional, and the provisions protecting monuments are valid. He cited multiple precedents and affirmed that his office is prepared to support this position in court.
According to Wilson, the Act has two main parts: the substantive and the procedural.
The substantive portion of the Act presents a list of criteria that a monument must meet to qualify for protection under the Act. Wilson believes this is the most important part; he refers to it as “the guts of the law.” The procedural portion deals with “what must be done to remove those protections and take a monument down.”
The procedural portion has come under scrutiny because the Act requires a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly to remove a monument. Those in opposition say that the requirement of a two-thirds vote, as opposed to a majority vote, “is unconstitutional and therefore the entire Heritage Act is unconstitutional.” Wilson lists various problems with this argument, with perhaps the most obvious being the Act’s severability clause, which states that if any part of the Act is deemed unconstitutional, it should be removed, but the remainder of the Act should not be discounted.
In regards to the Act’s applicability to the Calhoun monument, Wilson said that it did not clearly fit into any protected category:
“The first provision of the Act protects war monuments and monuments for Native Americans and African Americans. John C. Calhoun does not fall under any of those categories. Another provision requires the monument to be in a ‘public area’ and the Calhoun monument was on private property.”
Finally, Wilson clarified the position from which he drew these conclusions, and offered a suggestion for how to proceed in the future:
My defense of the Heritage Act is not a defense of those parts or acts of our history that we find abhorrent. My defense of the Heritage Act is based on my sincere belief that we should follow the rule of law. This means following the laws that our duly elected legislature has passed and prosecuting those individuals who intentionally flout the law by illegally destroying public property.
Instead of tearing down history I believe we should add to it. I suggest that we work instead to provide historical context to the bad acts of those who have been immortalized in stone so that future generations will know what we as a people had to overcome. Next, we should work to immortalize people from all races and backgrounds who have worked and suffered to make us a better society.