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South Carolina Supreme Court hears arguments on repealing the Heritage Act

A lawsuit arguing parts of the Heritage Act are unconstitutional had its first hearing Tuesday.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Supreme Court has now heard arguments on why the state’s Heritage Act may be unconstitutional. 

It’s the law that prevents historic monuments and memorials from being changed or removed without approval from two-thirds of the General Assembly. After Tuesday's hearing, some are hopeful that could soon change.

"I think our judges are leaning into seeing that the Heritage Act in and of itself is just unconstitutional pointblank period," said Vice President of Repeal the Heritage Act, Jazmyne McCrae. "Their own lawyers on the other side are unable to really even nail down why it was constitutional."

Repeal the Heritage Act is an organization created last year by students and alumni of the University of South Carolina. Their efforts to rename Sims Hall and the Strom Thurmond Fitness Center have stalled partly due to the Heritage Act.

Now McCrae and her colleague Helen Knight feel hopeful after the hearing.

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"The Act has a chilling effect on any attempts to make change, which the defense tried to say is not true, and the justices disagreed with. That was incredibly rewarding," said Knight. 

The chilling effect Knight is referring to is the two-thirds majority rule required by the Heritage Act. The law states any changes made to a monument must be approved by two-thirds of the General Assembly. Some argue that makes it near impossible to make changes and may be unconstitutional.

However, President of the American Heritage Association, Brett Barry, disagrees.

"There are a lot of different provisions in South Carolina law that require two-thirds and not once has a vote on the Heritage Act, once it's been brought up, fallen short of the two thirds," Barry told News19. "So, there's not one instance where, where they wanted to remove a monument, but it only got 60%. It's always met or exceeded the two thirds provision."

Barry worries if the two-thirds rules is removed, it’ll be much easier to take down historic monuments.

"We think it's such a shame that there is a movement to wipe this out because once it's gone, it can't be recreated. This is a path of no return once you start ripping down these historical monuments, they will be gone forever," said Barry.

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No decision was made in the hearing Tuesday. While the Pinckney v. Peeler lawsuit is pending, the American Heritage Association and some Republican lawmakers are working on legislation to strengthen the Heritage Act by increasing penalties for violations.

Supporters of the lawsuit hope certain provisions, including the two-thirds rule, are repealed. 

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