- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A Southern heritage group said Thursday that it will oppose Virginia’s move to banish the image of the Confederate battle flag from state license plates.

The Virginia division and the national leadership of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said they will go to U.S. District Court in Danville on July 31 to oppose the state’s bid to end an injunction that cleared the way 13 years ago for the flags to be displayed on specialty plates.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced last month that he would move to have the plates phased out, calling the image of the flag “unnecessarily divisive and hurtful.” His spokesman said Thursday that the plates are not currently being issued.

The decision came after the slayings of nine African-Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and a week after the Supreme Court ruled that Texas could reject a specialized license plate featuring the Confederate flag. The suspect in the Charleston shooting was seen in photographs brandishing the Confederate flag.

In Virginia, the flag is displayed on approximately 1,600 Sons of Confederate Veterans plates.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans said McAuliffe’s actions are premature because the court here has not issued a ruling on the state’s bid to end the injunction.

“They’re moving this train a little too fast,” said Kirk D. Lyons, an attorney representing the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “The governor acts like those logos just automatically come springing off the plate on his order and even has started the process to have them removed. We’ve actually had members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Roanoke try to get the plate and were told they’re not available.”

One member was told by officials at the state Department of Motor Vehicles that they were not allowed to sell the plates anymore, Lyons said.

In 1999, the General Assembly authorized the Sons of Confederate Veterans plates but prohibited the flag on them. The group sued and a federal appeals court ultimately ruled the state’s stance was discriminatory.

Attorney General Mark Herring has filed a motion in federal court to vacate the order. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for July 31.

McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said that, given the conflicting rulings, the Department of Motor Vehicles has put all applications for the Confederate plates on hold until the court resolves the issue.

In Virginia and Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, the national debate over the messages that Confederate symbols send has stirred strong feelings. Confederate statues have been vandalized in Richmond and Charlottesville and Danville has had emotional debates about the public display of the Confederate battle flag.

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Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sszkotakap.


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