SC law that protects monuments faces first legal challenge in state Supreme Court

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COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — South Carolina lawmakers passed the Heritage Act back in 2000.

Twenty-one years later, the law is being challenged in the state’s highest court.

Tuesday morning, justices on the Supreme Court of South Carolina listened to arguments surrounding the legality of the law that protects some public monuments and memorials in the state.

The General Assembly originally passed the law to remove the Confederate flag from the top of the dome at the State House in 2000. They also wanted to address other issues surrounding monuments and memorials.

According to the law, ‘no Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, War Between the States, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, Native American, or African-American History monuments or memorials erected on public property of the State or any of its political subdivisions may be relocated, removed, disturbed, or altered. No street, bridge, structure, park, preserve, reserve, or other public area of the State or any of its political subdivisions dedicated in memory of or named for any historic figure or historic event may be renamed or rededicated. No person may prevent the public body responsible for the monument or memorial from taking proper measures and exercising proper means for the protection, preservation, and care of these monuments, memorials, or nameplates.”

These monuments and memorials can only be changed with a two-thirds super majority vote by the General Assembly.

Tuesday’s arguments in court were surrounding this provision in the law. Associate Justice John Kittredge asked, “What legal principal do we look to as to where to draw the line?”

He also said, “If two thirds is proper, why not make it 80%, why not make it 90 or 100%? Make it beyond what the Constitution requires.”

Justices questioned attorneys from both sides for about an hour. They asked about the status of the law if the two-thirds requirement were to be struck down.

Attorneys for the petitioners said the whole law would be deemed unconstitutional since the requirement is a big part of it. Matthew Richardson said without the Heritage Act wouldn’t have passed.

He said, “This was a legislative compromise. The act’s main purpose was protection by preventing current and future legislators from making changes without the super-majority requirement. It’s why it’s in each section of the act.”

Attorneys for lawmakers named in the suit agree the super-majority requirement was necessary to get the law passed. However, they said the Heritage Act can still stand without the requirement due to another provision in the law.

In the law, the General Assembly included a severability clause that reads, “If any section, subsection, paragraph, subparagraph, sentence, clause, phrase, or word of this act is for any reason held to be unconstitutional or invalid, such holding shall not affect the constitutionality or validity of the remaining portions of this act, the General Assembly hereby declaring that it would have passed this act, and each and every section, subsection, paragraph, subparagraph, sentence, clause, phrase, and word thereof, irrespective of the fact that any one or more other sections, subsections, paragraphs, subparagraphs, sentences, clauses, phrases, or words thereof may be declared to be unconstitutional, invalid, or otherwise ineffective.”

Kenneth Moffitt told justices, “Everything necessary to achieve the General Assembly’s goal – the reason they were there – is all contained in Section A – A does not need B to operate.”

No ruling or decision was made Tuesday by the Supreme Court.

To watch all of Tuesday’s arguments click or tap here.

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