NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- Attorney General Mark Herring took the first legal steps necessary to remove the Confederate battle flag from Virginia license plates Friday.
Herring filed a motion in federal court in the Western District of Virginia to vacate the order and to dissolve the injunction issued in the 2001 case of Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. and Virginia Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc. vs. Richard D. Holcomb, Commissioner, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles which required the Commonwealth to place the flag on specialty license plates issued to members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Tuesday, Governor Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) said it was time to remove the logo from the specialty license plate for automobiles and motorcycles.
He cited the U.S. Supreme Court ruling from last week that allows states to ban the Confederate emblem.
Speaking in Norfolk, at the MacArthur Memorial Museum, McAuliffe said, " You know, it's a hurtful symbol. It's a divisive symbol for so many people. I spend seven days a week trying to unite people. We just don't need any symbols that are hurtful to people. We don't."
But, the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia is an important symbol for others. Frank Earnest of Virginia Beach, the great-great grandson of a Confederate soldier, and himself a member of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, calls McAuliffe's decision a betrayal.
"Now, the Governor of Virginia says I can honor Jimmy Buffett and Parrotheads on my license plate, but can't have a symbol that honors my blood ancestors that fought and died for the Commonwealth of Virginia," he said.
McAuliffe asked the Attorney General's office to take steps to reverse the prior court ruling that requires the Confederate flag be placed on state license plates. Second, he directed Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne to develop a plan for replacing the currently-issued plates as quickly as possible.
The General Assembly approved the license plate in 1999, but federal court decisions at the time kept lawmakers from excluding the battle flag from the design.
McAuliffe praised South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for calling for the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the state Capitol grounds in Columbia.
"As Governor Haley said yesterday, her state can ill afford to let this symbol continue to divide the people of South Carolina. I believe the same is true here in Virginia," he said.
There was no information about how this decision will affect Virginians who currently have the plates.
The General Assembly authorized the Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate in 1999 and the Virginia DMV began issuing them in June of 2002.
As of May 31, 2015, there were a total of 1,594 active Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates - 1,334 regular license plates and 260 motorcycle plates, Katy Lloyd with the Va. Department of Motor vehicles told 13News Now.com.
Lloyd said the DMV is waiting on a directive from the administration on how to proceed.
Attorney General Mark Herring released this statement: "It's past time to move beyond this divisive symbol, which for so many represents oppression and injustice. I applaud Governor McAuliffe for his leadership and will work with him and his team to take the steps necessary to remove the Confederate battle flag from Virginia's license plates."
Former Virginia governor Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said, "I support Governor McAuliffe's call to remove the Confederate battle flag from state-issued Virginia license plates. The use of the flag by public bodies is integrally connected to celebration of the cause of the Confederacy, which is inimical to American values. With the Supreme Court's decision last week in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., prior court rulings in Virginia that have protected the use of the emblem on license plates are now obsolete. This is the right call for the Commonwealth and I commend the Governor for his leadership on this issue."