‘An Abuse of Discretion’: Philadelphia Judge Rules That Vote to Remove Christopher Columbus Statue Has No Basis In Law

A statue of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus gets to stand another day after a Philadelphia court judge ruled that the request to remove it because of its controversial past had no “legal basis.”

“It is baffling to this Court as to how the City of Philadelphia wants to remove the statue without any legal basis. The city’s entire argument and case is devoid of any legal foundation,” Common Pleas Court Judge Paula Patrick said in a seven-page decision on Tuesday, Aug. 17, after ruling that the sculpture would remain in Marconi Plaza, located in South Philadelphia. 

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 14: Statue of Christopher Columbus in Marconi Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

The bid to relocate the statue was initially brought up following a June 13, 2020, incident in which a group of mostly men, some armed with bats and at least one with a rifle, surrounded the figure. The individuals had reportedly gathered there as a result of speculations that surfaced online.

Those speculations indicated that the city planned to take down the statue as people in other towns tore down similar contentious sculptures amid national protests against police brutality and racial injustice in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The men argued that the shrine should be preserved as it symbolized Italian heritage in America, the PhillyVoice reported

The city subsequently covered the statue with a wooden box after some of the men clashed with counter-protesters. The city’s Historical Commission voted a month later to remove the statue altogether. Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration argued that it was “unacceptable” and “unsafe” and should be moved.  

Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s Board of License and Inspection Review supported the vote after it was relocated. “As Philadelphia — and the nation — continue to reckon with the deep legacy of racism and oppression in America, it is critical that our public spaces are seen as safe, welcoming and inclusive for all people,” a city spokesperson said in a statement captured by the outlet at the time of the votes. “Philadelphia’s public art must reflect the people and spirit of our city, not divide us.”

However, with Judge Patrick’s recent ruling, the statue will now be placed back at the park where it once stood at the center of civil tension. 

Patrick stood firm by her decision to return the statue to its initial location. She stated that the altercations at the figure were “isolated,” calling its removal “necessary in public interest,” per Philadelphia code, because it did not provide evidence of ongoing safety concerns in the area. “This is clearly an abuse of discretion as well as arbitrary action,” Patrick wrote in her letter. 

Kevin Lessard, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, told the news outlet, that “While we are very disappointed with the ruling, we’re reviewing it now and exploring all potential options—including a possible appeal. The statue remains in Marconi Plaza and will continue to be secure in its exiting box.” Additionally, officials from the mayor’s office noted that in July 2020, most of the 13,000 people who took the survey regarding the statue’s placement favored its removal.

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