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Hidden figures

LAW | College wins bid to cover controversial murals

Covered murals in the Chase Community Center at Vermont Law School. Richard Beaven/The New York Times/Redux

Hidden figures
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A pair of 30-year-old murals at Vermont Law School are among the ­latest works of art to fall victim to a purge of public art or statues deemed racially offensive.

In an Aug. 18 ruling, a unanimous U.S. Court of Appeals panel rejected a claim by the murals’ now 77-year-old painter, Samuel Kerson, that the school violated his rights by covering the murals with ­acoustic panels.

Kerson, who is white, painted the 8-by-24-foot murals on the wall of a student gathering place in 1993 and 1994 to commemorate Vermont’s role in the Underground Railroad. The colorful acrylic paintings in folk-art style depict scenes from the country’s slave history and the state’s participation in the abolitionist movement. After the 2020 death of George Floyd, opposition to the murals mounted, with students and faculty criticizing their depiction of enslaved African people “in a cartoonish, almost animalistic style” fitting “racist … caricatures.”

Kerson’s claim was rooted in the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which gives an artist the right to prevent destruction or modification of works of visual art of “recognized stature.” He argued that permanently concealing an immovable work not only modifies it but also effectively destroys it.

Chief Judge Debra Ann Livingston disagreed. Siding with a lower court decision, the 2nd Circuit judge concluded the Visual Artists Rights Act “does not afford artists a categorical right to demand that their works remain on display.” That means Kerson’s art will stay under wraps for now.

Kay Ivey

Kay Ivey Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertiser/AP

11th circuit rules to protect kids

A federal appeals court in Atlanta last month upheld an Alabama law making it a ­felony to provide minors with puberty blocking medication, hormone therapy, or surgery meant to affirm a transgender identity.

In the Aug. 21 ruling, the three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the state’s Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey last year. Judge Barbara Lagoa wrote, “States properly may limit the authority of parents where ‘it appears that parental decisions will ­jeopardize the health or safety of the child, or have a potential for significant social burdens.’”

At least 20 states have enacted laws or policies restricting transgender treatments for youth. Judges have blocked such restrictions in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Indiana but greenlighted laws in Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Texas—as litigation continues. —S.W.

Steve West

Steve is a reporter for WORLD. A graduate of World Journalism Institute, he worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor in Raleigh, N.C., where he resides with his wife.



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