The statue of Melville Fuller, who served as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, is seen Aug. 11 in front of old Kennebec County courthouse on the corner of State and Winthrop streets in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — Plenty of letters have been sent, but Kennebec County commissioners have taken no new action about a request from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to consider moving a statue of Melville Fuller from outside the county courthouse.

The bronze statue of the Augusta-born Fuller, who served for 21 years as chief justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, was erected in front of the courthouse in 2013. Robert Fuller, a relative and retired Augusta attorney, gave the statue to the county and provided all the funding for the estimated $40,000 project.

Concern over the statue and what it may say about equal justice, though, stems from a decision 124 years ago.

In 1896, while Fuller was chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Plessy v. Ferguson decision maintained racial segregation with the “separate but equal” doctrine, allowing discrimination to continue. Though Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote the opinion in the 7-1 decision, Fuller joined the majority. The decision was overturned in 1954 by the high court’s landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

Fuller’s stance on that decision prompted an Aug. 5 letter from Maine’s high court, asking the county to consider moving it to a new location amid nationwide racial unrest that has called into question monuments and statues lionizing the country’s racist past.

“We believe that the statue should not continue to be the monument that members of the public see as they approach the courthouse,” stated the letter, which was signed by Acting Chief Justice Andrew Mead on behalf of the court.

Kennebec County responded with an Aug. 20 letter, asking for a court representative to meet with them to talk about the statue.

“Given recent events and the concern of Maine’s judicial officers that the statue may not accurately reflect the values of Maine’s judicial system we agree that a thorough vetting of the appropriate setting for honoring Justice Fuller is appropriate,” wrote Patsy Crockett, chairperson for the Kennebec County commissioners, in the letter. “We appreciate your thoughtful suggestions and would hope that a representative of the judiciary could meet with us to discuss these ideas. If that is possible please contact our County Administrator Robert Devlin to arrange a date to meet.”

The county heard back from the court on Thursday this week — in the form of a letter, dated Aug. 30. On Friday, Amy Quinlan was unable to provide a copy of that letter.

According to Quinlan, director of communications for the Maine Judicial Branch, Justice William Stokes has been designated as the contact person for the county commission. She said he is expected to reach out to the county soon to “see how they wish to proceed.”

While members of the court are willing to have further conversation with commissioners, Quinlan said they do not expect to be part of the decision-making process about what to do with the statue.

“Given the fact that the court does not own the statue or the property upon which it stands, and was not a party to the arrangements between the donor of the statue and the county officials,” she wrote, “the court does not expect or anticipate any active role in any future action the county may take.”

Crockett said commissioners have not considered what next steps to take, because they want to have a conversation with members of the judiciary first.

“We did first want to hear what they had in mind, because the letter, to all of us, seemed to indicate they had something in mind,” she said. “Maybe they don’t, but it did sound that way to us.

“It was the court that requested the statue be moved,” Crockett added.

Asked if the court had specific locations it felt would be appropriate for the statue, Quinlan wrote that it has “not taken any official position on where the statue should be relocated.”

Crockett said Friday she’s asked Devlin to respond — with yet another a letter — asking for a couple of dates that would work for a meeting between a court representative and the commissioners.

“We should be able to work with two dates,” she said. “We will meet, I would say, within the next two weeks.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.