RICHMOND, Va. – Attorneys are challenging Virginia's recall of banished license plates bearing the image of a Confederate battle flag.
The challenge was filed in state court on behalf of Leonard Tracy Clary, Virginia Division commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, his attorneys said Thursday.
While a federal judge ruled the state could outlaw the plates, the filing in Brunswick Circuit Court takes aim at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and its recall of the commemorative plates in exchange for the issuance of new plates.
In a separate court action Thursday, a Circuit Court judge dismissed a lawsuit against the city of Danville challenging the removal of the third final national flag of the Confederacy. It had flown outside a mansion in the mill city where Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet fled after the fall of Richmond in the waning days of the Civil War.
In June, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced he would move to phase out the plates with the battle flag, calling the image "unnecessarily divisive and hurtful." The plates have not been issued since.
McAuliffe's decision came after the slayings of nine African-Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and a week after the Supreme Court ruled that Texas could reject a specialized license plate featuring the Confederate flag. The suspect in the Charleston shooting had been seen in photographs posing with a Confederate flag.
In late July, a federal judge in Danville, Virginia, cleared the way for the state to ban the Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates with the flag.
Attorney General Mark R. Herring said then that the ruling allowed the state to "remove a symbol of oppression and injustice from public display on its license plates."
In its state appeal, attorneys for Clary contend the plate recall is not authorized under Virginia law and goes beyond the power of the DMV. It further states that the federal ruling backing the state's ban on the flag plates did not extend to the recall.
Approximately 1,600 Sons of Confederate Veterans plates had been issued. Since the ruling, about 200 pairs have been returned in postage-paid envelopes provided by the DMV, a spokeswoman wrote in an email. She added that others had been returned to customer service centers but she did not have a count.
Clary is represented by attorneys from The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization based in Charlottesville. The action was filed Wednesday, according to electronic court records.
The decision involving the city of Danville entailed a Confederate flag that had flown on the lawn of the city-owned Sutherlin Mansion, an arts and history museum and home to a memorial of Confederate war dead. The mansion briefly served as the home of the Confederacy.
In August, the Danville City Council voted to banish all flags from city property other than the U.S., Virginia and Danville flags. The decision was challenged by a heritage group and others.
Herring, who announced the court decision, commended the City Council for its "courageous and unifying decision" to have the flag removed.