The controversial removal of the Confederate flag from the main courtroom of the York County courthouse will see its first legal challenge Thursday. A North Carolina man has demanded that the flag and portraits of Confederate generals go back in the courtroom.
Flag supporters say state law requires the flag and pictures of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee stay up unless the legislature votes on it. County officials say no. So a judge will decide after Thursday’s hearing.
A demonstration in support of putting the flag back in the courtroom has been planned for outside the courthouse. The hearing and demonstration come after protests in Charlottesville, Va., about Confederate monuments. Protests there featured Nazis and white supremacists, and turned violent, leaving one dead and more than a dozen injured.
York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said law enforcement is aware that a demonstration is planned outside the courthouse by people who want the flag and other items returned to the courtroom.
“Myself and (York Police Department Chief Andy) Robinson are keenly aware of events that have happened in other places, and have a plan for security that will ensure peace and tranquility,” Tolson said.
The hearing is in the same building, at the intersection of Congress and Liberty streets, where the Confederate items would go, but will be in a different courtroom.
A Facebook posting from the S.C. Conservative Action Council, which urges going on “the offensive” to support the Confederate Flag going back up and protecting Confederate monuments, invites people to join the demonstration, starting at 10 a.m.
“We will do everything possible to ensure that all people’s right to free speech and assembly is observed and it is done in a safe manner,” Tolson said.
Russell Walker of Aberdeen, N.C., filed a lawsuit in June against York County Clerk of Court David Hamilton, asking a judge to force Hamilton to return the flag and pictures back to the main courtroom, which re-opened earlier this year. The lawsuit alleges that the S.C. Heritage Act allows only the legislature to move Confederate items in public buildings.
Walker filed what is called a writ of mandamus, meaning it is attempting to force a public official to act. County officials have balked and want the case thrown out.
York County lawyer Michael Kendree filed a motion in July asking that Walker’s lawsuit be dismissed, on grounds of “standing,” court records show. It is unclear if Walker’s residency in North Carolina could disqualify him from suing in York County.
Kendree stated in a letter to the S.C. Attorney General in March that county officials say York County’s courtroom and courthouse flags, and items, do not fall under the state’s heritage act. York County asked in March for the S.C. Attorney General to issue an opinion, but the attorney general has not done so.
Several York County lawyers have vowed to fight any attempt to put the Confederate flag, which they say is a symbol of slavery and inequality and injustice toward black people, back in a courtroom.
The main courtroom opened in April without two versions of the Confederate Flag and other historical flags, which were put in the courtroom several decades ago. York County master-in-equity Judge Jack Kimball will handle the hearing and will decide if Walker’s lawsuit can proceed.
When the courthouse re-opened at a ceremony in January, Confederate Flag supporters protested and the flag’s foes rallied in solidarity of the decision to keep the flag out of the main courtroom.
Confederate flag supporters again rallied in April, when Congressional candidate Sheri Few, who supported the Confederate flag, spoke at a rally. Hamilton declined comment, referring all questions to Kendree. Attempts to reach Kendree and Walker - the man who filed the lawsuit, as well as the people planning the demonstration, were unsuccessful Wednesday.