Sons of Confederate Veterans do not have standing to prevent University’s removal of confederate officer statues on campus

Gary David Bray and Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., And David Steven Littlefield v Gregory L. Fenves, In His Official Capacity as The President of the University of Texas at Austin, 06-15-00075-CV (Tex. App. – Texarkana, March 24, 2016).

This is an interesting case where U.T. Austin was sued by the Sons of Confederate Veterans asserting the University could not move two statues of confederate officers on its main campus. The Texarkana Court of Appeals held they did not have standing to bring such as suit.

George Washington Littlefield was the largest contributor to the University in the first fifty years of its existence. Littlefield served in the Terry’s Texas Rangers during the Civil War and after the war was a successful rancher, real estate investor, and banker. In his will dated July 1, 1918, Littlefield provided for several large bequests to the University, including a bequest to establish the Littlefield Fund for Southern History and another to erect an arch and five statues on campus. Littlefield’s will gave the trustees discretion as to the arrangement and design, but directed the statutes be given “prominence” at the University. However, as a change of mentality occurred over the decades, calls to remove the statutes occurred both inside and outside the University. The “controversy came to full boil in the spring of 2015, when new student government leaders took office and began a social media campaign to remove” some of the statutes and others were vandalized multiple times.   After receiving community input the University president announced one statue would be moved to the Briscoe Center for American History where the statue could be put in full historical context and for the removal of another from campus.  The next day the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. (“SCV”) filed suit seeking to stop the move. The trial court denied the SCV’s temporary injunction request and granted the University’s plea to the jurisdiction. SCV appealed.

The court of appeals held generally, a citizen lacks standing to bring a lawsuit challenging the lawfulness of governmental acts. Unless standing is conferred by statute, a plaintiff must show that he has suffered a particularized injury distinct from the general public. And even though Bray and David Littlefield (who are also plaintiffs and members of the SCV) would feel insulted by the action, they would not suffer any individualized injury. No member of the SCV was named as a trustee under the Littlefield will, none are beneficiaries by any evidence, and none have a financial interest under the will.  Additionally, the SCV does not have standing as third party donee beneficiaries of the bequest.  The will gave discretion to the trustees regarding various aspects of the bequest. The University cannot be permanently bound by a condition that the statues remain displayed on the main mall.  The Legislature in 1881 which granted the main mall of the University to the school expressly limited the board of regents’ authority to impress any part of the forty acres set aside for the campus “with a trust or restrictions, the effect of which might be to hamper them or their successors in the proper administration of the institution as they may determine wise and expedient to meet changes in conditions from time to time.” While the SCV members asserted taxpayer standing in their opening statement on oral arguments, none of the pleadings establish taxpayer standing. And since no individuals of the SCV has individual standing, the SCV does not have associational standing. The trial court property granted the plea and denied the injunction.

If you would like to read this opinion, click here.  Panel: Chief Justice III Morriss, Justice Moseley, and Justice Burgess.  Memorandum opinion given by Justice Burgess.  Attorneys for the Appellants are C.L. Ray and Kirk D. Lyons.  Attorney for the Appellee is Adam N. Bitter.