AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine officials are considering steps to remove a statute of a former Supreme Court chief justice who supported a decision that institutionalized racial segregation.
They have set a public hearing for Dec. 1 on the Melville Fuller statue outside the Kennebec County courthouse in Augusta, the Kennebec Journal reported.
Because Fuller presided over the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896, his statue should not stand outside the courthouse, said Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court Acting Chief Justice Andrew Mead in an August letter on behalf of the court to the Kennebec County commissioners.
The Plessy v. Ferguson decision established the “separate but equal” doctrine that permitted racial segregation, leading to Jim Crow laws. It was overturned in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that struck down racial segregation in public schools.
“Given our commitment to racial justice, we should take every opportunity to examine and re-examine our positions, policies and practices,” Mead wrote.
When the statue, donated by a Fuller family member, was installed in 2013, then-Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley called Fuller “an Augusta boy made good, clearly,” and praised his administrative skills and efforts to encourage cooperation between justices on the court.
Saufley did acknowledge then that Fuller approved “one of the most reviled decisions” in the court’s history.
“This is a good reminder that respected, capable people can do something that is so flatly wrong,” she said.
Fuller served as chief justice of the U. S. Supreme Court for over two decades.