Texas AG: State legislature has authority to move Texas A&M ‘Sully’ statue
Paxton said approval to move the statue would have to come from state lawmakers.
AUSTIN, Texas (KBTX) - State Attorney General Ken Paxton says the state legislature, historical commission or preservation board likely has authority to move the statue of former Texas A&M University president Lawrence Sullivan “Sully” Ross, but that a court would likely say it falls to state lawmakers.
State Rep. John Cyrier wrote a letter to Paxton in July asking him to weigh in on whether or not Texas A&M had authority to move the statue. His letter was sent after Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young announced the formation of a Commission on Historic Representation to review statues, monuments, buildings and similar representations on its campus and suggest appropriate courses of action with respect to each of them. Cyrier is a 1995 graduate of A&M.
The statue has garnered a lot of attention over the last few months. Ross was president of the university, and is often credited with being the reason the university survived. Others say that his position as a general in the Confederate army outweighs his merits to the university.
The statue wasn’t commissioned by the university, but rather the state legislature in 1917. It was erected on campus in 1918. Paxton wrote the statue falls under Chapter 2166 of the Texas Government Code, the state law that addresses state building construction and acquisition, and disposition of real property. He writes the statue qualifies as a monument under this section.
Section 2166.5011 of the Government Code provides:
(a) In this section, “monument or memorial” means a permanent
monument, memorial, or other designation, including a statue,
portrait, plaque, seal, symbol, building name, or street name, that:
(1) is located on state property; and
(2) honors a citizen of this state for military or war-related
(b) Notwithstanding any other provision of this code, a monument
or memorial may be removed, relocated, or altered only:
(1) by the legislature;
(2) by the Texas Historical Commission;
(3) by the State Preservation Board; or
(4) as provided by Subsection (c).
(c) A monument or memorial may be removed, relocated, or altered
in a manner otherwise provided by this code as necessary to
accommodate construction, repair, or improvements to the
monument or memorial or to the surrounding state property on
which the monument or memorial is located. Any monument or
memorial that is permanently removed under this subsection must
be relocated to a prominent location.
Paxton says, short of the university moving the statue for construction reasons as noted in subsection (c), A&M would need to get approval from the state legislature to move “Sully” permanently. Subsection (b) gives authority to grant removal to the Texas Historical Commission or the State Preservation Board. Paxton notes that the historical commission doesn’t have “express authority” to remove the statue because they haven’t designated it a historical landmark. He writes “a court is unlikely to find either of those entities possess authority to approve a request by Texas A&M to remove or relocate” the statue.
Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp seems to agree with Paxton’s interpretation of the law. In a statement, he said “the statue of Lawrence Sullivan Ross cannot be moved by anyone at Texas A&M University, including the Board of Regents.”
Based on the Attorney General’s ruling, the statue of Lawrence Sullivan Ross cannot be moved by anyone at Texas A&M University, including the Board of Regents.
Our attorneys’ understanding is the opinion does not allow Texas A&M University to move the statue into the Cushing Memorial Library and Archive. In fact, it cannot be moved at all unless a building is built on the statue’s site and then it must moved to an equally prominent site.
Nevertheless, the President’s Commission has important work to do to make Texas A&M University even greater. We all should put our energy toward that goal.
The commission announced by Young in June will review representations – to include statues, monuments, buildings and similar representations – in name, placement and historical context on the campus and suggest appropriate courses of action with respect to each of them. This group will be asked to begin with making a recommendation on the Lawrence Sullivan Ross statue in the near future.
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