(AP photo)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Supreme Court of Virginia said Friday it will take up appeals in two lawsuits that seek to prevent Gov. Ralph Northam from removing an enormous statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond. The court granted a petition of appeal from a group of Richmond residents and from a descendant of signatories to a 1890 deed that transferred the statue, pedestal and ground they sit on to the state. It was not immediately clear how soon the court might take the matters up.

Pat McSweeney, an attorney for the group of Richmond residents who live near the statue, said he was not certain when the cases might be heard. An attorney for William Gregory, the plaintiff in the second case, could not immediately be reached. Attorney General Mark Herring, who is representing Northam in court, has previously sought to expedite the proceedings in the matter. “Attorney General Herring remains more committed than ever to removing this symbol of Virginia’s racist past from it’s place of prominence in our community, allowing Virginians to begin to heal and move forward to a more equitable future,” his spokeswoman, Charlotte Gomer, said in a statement.

Northam, whose term as governor ends next January, announced his decision to take down the statue after George Floyd’s death last year in police custody in Minneapolis. But the governor’s removal plans have been tied up in court since then. The massive statue is among the nation’s most prominent Confederate tributes. It sits on state property, soaring over Richmond’s renowned Monument Avenue. The city of Richmond, which was the capital of the Confederacy for most of the Civil War, has removed more than a dozen other pieces of Confederate statuary on city land since Floyd’s death, which sparked a renewed wave of Confederate monument removals across the U.S. The statues’ critics say keeping them in prominent places glorifies efforts to preserve slavery. Others say their removal amounts to erasing history.