AUSTIN, Texas (AP) â€” Two plaques bearing symbols of the Confederacy were removed from the lobby of the state Supreme Court building over the weekend despite calls from Confederate heritage groups for a public hearing.
The plaques were replaced with new ones that say equal justice is available to all Texans ``regardless of race, creed or color.'' They note that the building was constructed with money taken from a Confederate pension fund and dedicated to Texans who served in the Confederacy.
Confederate heritage groups complained about the ``dark of night'' removal and promised legal action.
The original plaques contained a quotation from Gen. Robert E. Lee and included symbols of the Confederate battle flag and seal of the Confederacy.
The Texas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others called the original plaques offensive to minorities and had asked Gov. George W. Bush, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, to have them removed.
The plaques were replaced by the state General Services Commission in consultation with the governor's office, Associate Supreme Court Justice Alberto Gonzales said.
Gonzales said Bush's office consulted with various individuals and officials to chose the wording for the replacement plaques. They were also reviewed by lawyers in case of legal challenges.
A Bush spokesman did not immediately return phone calls to The Associated Press.
Gonzales said the plaques were replaced at night to avoid disrupting court business during the day with the noise of drilling into granite walls.
Just last week, Confederate heritage groups demanded a public hearing before the plaques were removed.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Southern Legal Resource Center, which crusades against what it calls Southern heritage violations, said the plaques were removed illegally and that the groups would sue the General Services Commission.
The public should have had input on the decision because it took a constitutional amendment to use the pension fund money to construct the building, the Confederate groups say. The building was put up in the 1950s when the number of Confederate veterans and survivors had dwindled, freeing up the pension money for other uses.
``The war is just beginning,'' said Kirk Lyons of the Southern Legal Resource Center.
``We think it takes more than a governor's say-so to take down plaques put there to honor Texas fighting men,'' he said.
In the meantime, Denne Sweeney, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said group volunteers will hold daily demonstrations outside the building until the presidential election.
The battle flag became a presidential campaign issue earlier this year during the primary in South Carolina, where officials were debating the flying of the Confederate flag over the state Capitol in Columbia. Bush declined to offer an opinion on whether the flag should be taken down, saying it up to the people of South Carolina to decide.