Democratic Senator Darrell Jackson Questions Legality of Heritage Act

Sen. Darrell Jackson
Sen. Darrell Jackson

A Democratic state senator is questioning the constitutionality of a South Carolina law that bars altering any public monument that honors historic figures or events without overwhelming approval by the Legislature.

Meanwhile, Sen. Darrell Jackson is also proposing exemptions.

“The process of removing the Confederate flag caused some to re-examine the wisdom and constitutionality of some of the provisions of the Heritage Act,” Jackson, D-Columbia, wrote Tuesday in a letter provided to The Associated Press.

It asks Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson whether the law’s two-thirds requirement violates the Legislature’s autonomy. The question centers on whether the Legislature of 2000 can pass a law binding its successors.

Wilson’s spokesman said his office had not yet received the request. In South Carolina, officeholders can seek the attorney general’s opinion on a legal question, though the opinion is not legally binding.

The state’s top prosecutor has written at least five opinions on the law over the past 15 years, largely on whether it applied to a specific flag or monument. Each time, the office concluded it did. The most recent opinion in February concerned one on city property in Greenwood.

American Legion members in Greenwood have since sued. They want to change the memorial that lists those killed in World Wars I and II as “colored” and “white.” The law prevents them from doing so.

That’s because the 2000 compromise that removed the Confederate flag from atop the Statehouse dome — and put a square version beside a Confederate memorial — also required that any change to monuments, markers, streets or buildings named for historical figures or events, including wars, receive the two-thirds approval.

Jackson plans to introduce a bill that would exempt local governments, school districts and colleges from the Heritage Act.

“We went too far,” said Jackson, who voted for the 2000 law.

The state shouldn’t micromanage such local decisions, he said: “We did to local governments what we complain so much so about the federal government doing to us,” he said.

Jackson plans to pre-file his proposal in December for next year’s legislative session.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said its prospects are slim.

“I really don’t see the House or Senate revisiting the Heritage Act this session,” he said. “My sense is, there’s not broad support.”

State House Speaker Jay Lucas said in July he won’t allow the debate that brought down the Confederate flag to extend to any other public property. His statement came one week after his chamber provided the vote necessary to remove the flag and the pole it flew on from the Statehouse’s front lawn.

Lucas called that narrowly tailored amendment to the Heritage Act an “end to the discussion.” It occurred less than a month after nine parishioners were gunned down at a historic black church in Charleston.

“Debate over this issue will not be expanded or entertained throughout the remainder of my time as speaker,” said Lucas, R-Hartsville.

His statement came as officials of Clemson University and — to a lesser extent — Winthrop University were being pushed to remove the name of white supremacist Ben Tillman from one of the campus’ best-known buildings. Both schools have a Tillman Hall, which is named after the former governor-turned-U.S.-senator who helped found both schools. Tillman also advocated killing black people, and his policies ushered in the Jim Crow-era South.

Jackson’s bill would let the legislatively elected boards of those public colleges decide whether to keep Tillman’s name on the buildings, while maintaining that any change to the Tillman statue on Statehouse grounds receive the Legislature’s overwhelming approval.

Source: The AP

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