House to vote on removing bust of Supreme Court justice who wrote Dred Scott ruling

Bonnie Cash

The House will vote later this month on legislation to remove a bust in the Capitol of Roger Brooke Taney, the former Supreme Court chief justice who wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott decision, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday.

The bill, which Hoyer introduced in March, would replace the bust of Taney in the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court chamber with a depiction of Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the nation’s highest court. 

“I have a bill, as you know, which I’m going to be offering and bringing to the floor … this month on removing Roger Brooke Taney’s bust from the entrance to the Supreme Court,” Hoyer told reporters. 

He called the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling, which stated that Black people could not be considered American citizens and therefore could not sue in federal courts, a “terrible, terrible decision inconsistent with what America stands for and what America said it stood for in its Declaration of Independence.”

Taney, who hailed from Hoyer’s home state, wrote in the ruling’s majority opinion that Black people “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”

The upcoming vote on the legislation to remove Taney’s bust is part of an effort by Democrats to take down artwork in the Capitol honoring people who served the Confederacy or worked to preserve racist systems.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last month ordered the removal of four portraits outside the House chamber depicting former Speakers who served the Confederacy as top officials and in the army.

“Our Congressional community has the sacred opportunity and obligation to make meaningful change to ensure that the halls of Congress reflect our highest ideals as Americans. Let us lead by example,” Pelosi wrote in the letter to House clerk Cheryl Johnson.

Pelosi has also called for removing 11 statues in the Capitol complex of other Confederate figures, including Confederate army commander Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.

Those statues are part of the National Statuary Hall collection, to which each of the 50 states provides two statues. The statues can only be replaced if state legislatures and governors approve a change.

Two states, Florida and Arkansas, are currently in the years-long process of replacing their Confederate statues with statues of civil rights activists. 

Two members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), introduced legislation last month that would unilaterally order the removal of the remaining Confederate statues in the National Statuary Hall collection within 120 days. States could either reclaim the statues or donate them to the Smithsonian.

The push to remove statues honoring Confederate leaders comes after the nationwide protests in recent weeks over racial injustice and police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died in Minneapolis in May during an arrest.

The House passed sweeping legislation last week to enact police reforms in response to Floyd’s death that would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases as well as establish a national registry to track police officers’ misconduct. But Senate Democrats blocked a GOP police reform proposal in the upper chamber, with the odds slimming of any bill moving through both chambers of Congress and securing President Trump’s approval.

Hoyer was noncommittal about whether the House would take up other bills pushed by the CBC, such as legislation from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) that would establish a commission to study whether Black Americans should receive reparations for slavery, or other measures regarding the removal of Confederate monuments.

“They are all under consideration,” Hoyer said.

Tags Barbara Lee Bennie Thompson Donald Trump dred scott Dred Scott v. Sandford Nancy Pelosi Removal of Confederate monuments and memorials Sheila Jackson Lee Steny Hoyer

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