A brief history of the Heritage Act

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 6:57 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 23, 2021 at 11:23 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Supreme Court has made it easier for state lawmakers to change or remove historical monuments.

On Wednesday, the state’s highest court changed the controversial Heritage Act of 2000 by saying the two-thirds majority standard for changing or removing historical memorials or markers is unconstitutional. The court also said the Heritage Act itself is constitutional.

RELATED STORY | South Carolina’s Confederate monument protection law upheld

The law moved the Confederate flag from the top of the State House dome to the grounds. It also forbids the removal of memorials for historic figures or events from public property without a supermajority of the state legislature rather than a simple majority.

While the Confederate flag was the center of the debate, the law also protects “any historic figure or historic event” from being changed or altered without a vote.

“No Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, War Between the States, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, Native American, or African-American History monuments or memorials erected on public property of the State or any of its political subdivisions may be relocated, removed, disturbed, or altered. No street, bridge, structure, park, preserve, reserve, or another public area of the State or any of its political subdivisions dedicated in memory of or named for any historic figure or historic event may be renamed or rededicated. No person may prevent the public body responsible for the monument or memorial from taking proper measures and exercising proper means for the protection, preservation, and care of these monuments, memorials, or nameplates.”

At the time, the bill was considered a compromise. But even when the Confederate flag came down from the State House grounds, the high bar for changing or removing historical memorials or markers remained.

This ruling from the SC Supreme Court is just the latest chapter of the Heritage Act’s story.

1938 - Confederate flag goes up in the SC House chambers

1956 - Confederate flag goes up in the SC Senate chambers

1962 - Confederate flag placed on State House Dome

1990′s - NAACP leads national boycott against Confederate flag in SC

2000 - Heritage Act passed and the Confederate flag moved from the dome to the grounds

2015 - Nine parishioners are shot and killed at Mother Emanuel AME Church

  • Bill passes removing Confederate flag from State House grounds

2021 - SC Supreme Court rules the two-thirds majority standard is unconstitutional

In the decision, the Supreme Court said the reason the supermajority standard was unconstitutional is that a previous legislature can’t put restrictions on future lawmakers’ powers.

In a statement after the ruling, SC Attorney General Alan Wilson thanked the Supreme Court for their opinion.

“Their unanimous ruling confirms our earlier opinion on the Heritage Act. We agree with the court that the compromise concerning the Flag and which led to the passage of the Heritage Act is one of the great achievements in South Carolina history,” Wilson said.

Senate President Harvey Peeler, who was the defendant in the case taken up by the court said, “The Supreme Court yielded a decision and I accept their ruling. The protections over all of our state’s monuments and statues were ruled constitutional and they will remain in place.”

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