Custodians rename Coast Guard ship named after justice who wrote Dred Scott decision

Custodians rename Coast Guard ship named after justice who wrote Dred Scott decision
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A WWII-era Coast Guard ship named after the Supreme Court chief justice who penned the majority opinion in the Dred Scott ruling will be renamed by the groups overseeing the vessel, amid a nationwide reckoning over historic symbols of racial injustice.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter “Taney” was originally named to honor Roger B. Taney’s service as U.S. Treasury secretary. But Taney’s legacy is defined principally by his majority opinion in the 1857 ruling in Dred Scott v. Sanford, which said slaves were property and African Americans — whether enslaved or free — could not be U.S. citizens.

Now the groups charged with overseeing the Coast Guard vessel, the last surviving warship from the attack on Pearl Harbor, say it’s time for a new name.


“Taney’s ruling was an abomination and a great injustice towards African Americans,” said James Piper Bond, president and CEO of Living Classrooms Foundation. “The national historic landmark we are charged with stewarding should be reflective of our values of equality and opportunity for all.”

The decision follows the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, which has led to weeks of nationwide protests over racial injustice and prompted a reckoning over controversial historic symbols.

A new name for the ship has not been selected, but it is currently being referred to by its military identification, WHEC-37, which stands for “high endurance cutter.”

The removal of Taney’s name was coordinated with the city of Baltimore, where the ship is docked, as well as the group Historic Ships in Baltimore. The U.S. Coast Guard was given notice of the change, according to the Living Classrooms Foundation.

Taney’s 7-2 majority opinion in the Scott case is widely regarded by constitutional scholars as one of the most deplorable decisions in the history of the Supreme Court.

Taney's decision also struck down the Missouri Compromise, which was designed to strike a balance between free and slave-holding states. As a consequence of Taney's ruling, slavery was permitted across the country.

The Scott decision was overturned by the post-Civil War amendments to the Constitution that abolished slavery and established that all people born or naturalized in the U.S. are citizens.