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

AUGUSTA — Officials from the Maine court system and Kennebec County are expected to continue their discussion on the location of a statue of Melville Fuller, which stands outside the Kennebec County courthouse in Augusta.

A public hearing has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Dec. 1; it will take place on Zoom, an online meeting platform.

Fuller, who served as chief justice of the U. S. Supreme Court for more than two decades, presided over the court when it decided Plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896. That case institutionalized racial segregation in the United States for more than five decades.

In August, Acting Chief Justice Andrew Mead, on behalf of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sent a letter to the Kennebec County commissioners saying that because of Fuller’s connection to that decision, his statue should not continue to be the monument that members of the public see when they approach the courthouse.

“Given our commitment to racial justice, we should take every opportunity to examine and re-examine our positions, policies and practices,” the letter states.

But because the Judicial Branch doesn’t own the statue, or the ground on which it stands, Mead wrote, “We have no control over the statue.”


The letter encouraged the Kennebec County commissioners to undertake a communitywide review, “with the ultimate goal of assuring what is outside the Kennebec County Courthouse and the Capital Judicial Center upholds the principles and values that the Maine judiciary seeks to uphold inside the courthouse.”

The statue of Fuller, donated by family member Robert Fuller Jr., was installed in August 2013 at the Kennebec County Courthouse after Kennebec County commissioners voted to accept the gift in 2012.

Melville Fuller was born in Augusta, graduated from Bowdoin College and was admitted to the bar in Augusta. He later moved to Chicago, where he was active in politics and practiced law before he was first appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At the time the statue was placed, then-Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley described Fuller as “an Augusta boy made good, clearly” and praised his administrative skills and emphasis on collegiality among the justices of the court.

Saufley also acknowledged that he signed on to “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.

Mead’s letter came as a surprise to Kennebec County commissioners, who had heard there had been some discussion about the statute but were unaware of the nature of the discussion.

Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ruled that racial segregation was unconstitutional.

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