AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas on Friday abruptly canceled weekend plans to relocate a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis after a legal challenge from the same group that recently lost at the U.S. Supreme Court over rejected Confederate license plates.
The cancellation was announced a day after new University President Greg Fenves said he would uproot the century-old statue away from the center of campus, but leave statues of other Confederate figures untouched.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans, which says it seeks to celebrate Southern heritage, filed for a temporary restraining order Friday but has not yet received a decision from a judge. However, university spokesman Gary Susswein said the school agreed to wait until a court can review the challenge, all the while expressing confidence that the Davis statue will ultimately be relocated to a museum.
"We are confident we will move ahead with these plans," Susswein said.
The statue had been targeted by vandals and had come under increasing criticism as a symbol of racism. State government and businesses around the U.S. have removed Confederate symbols following the mass shooting in June of black church members in Charleston, South Carolina.
In court filings, the Sons of Confederate Veterans argue that the South Carolina shooting set off "orchestrated national hysteria and pressure" to remove Confederate symbols. The group claims that leaders of the 50,000-student campus have no unilateral authority to relocate the statue.
In June, the Supreme Court rejected a free-speech challenge by the group after a state board denied it a Texas license plate bearing the Confederate flag. The court said in a 5-4 ruling that Texas can limit the content of licenses plates because they are state property and not the equivalent of bumper stickers.
"That and Charleston pretty much started this free-for-all against the Confederate flag," said Kirk D. Lyons, a North Carolina-based attorney for the group. "It wouldn't matter if I knew with 99 percent certainty that we'd be blown out of the water in court. It's the right thing to do to stand up to this nonsense."
A court hearing is expected next week but has not yet been set.
The Davis statue has been a point of controversy for years on the Texas campus and the issue had been studied by previous school presidents. The student government adopted a resolution in March supporting the statue being removed entirely.
Fenves said statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston and Confederate Postmaster General John H. Reagan will remain near the university's central clock tower. He cited those men's "deep ties to Texas" but said Davis is in a separate category.