120 Republicans vote to keep bust of pro-slavery justice on display in Capitol

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Former Chief Justice Roger Taney authored the 1857 Supreme Court decision that stated Black Americans could not be citizens.

120 House Republicans voted on Tuesday against H.R. 3005, a proposed bill that would mandate the removal of a bust of the U.S. chief justice who authored the Dred Scott decision and of monuments to Confederate rebels from display in the U.S. Capitol. The bill passed, 285-120, with 67 Republicans joining 218 Democrats in support.

If the bill, authored by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, becomes law, it will require that a bust of Roger B. Taney be removed from the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol and replaced by a bust of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall.

The text of H.R. 3005 notes:

While sitting in the United States Capitol, the Supreme Court issued the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford decision on March 6, 1857. Written by Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, whose bust sits inside the entrance to the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the United States Capitol, this opinion declared that African Americans were not citizens of the United States and could not sue in Federal courts. This decision further declared that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.

Taney, who served as chief justice from 1836 to 1864, wrote for the majority in Dred Scott, "A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a 'citizen' within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States. Consequently, the special rights and immunities guarantied to citizens do not apply to them."

H.R. 3005 argues, "Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s authorship of Dred Scott v. Sandford, the effects of which would only be overturned years later by the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, renders a bust of his likeness unsuitable for the honor of display to the many visitors to the United States Capitol."

Thurgood Marshall, a prominent civil rights lawyer, was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to be the first Black U.S. solicitor general in 1965 and the first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice in 1967. He served as an associate justice from 1967 to 1991.

The bill, whose 17 co-sponsors are all Democrats, would also require "that all busts and statues of people who voluntarily served as part of the Confederate States of America be removed from public display in the U.S. Capitol," along with those of white supremacist and former North Carolina Gov. Charles Brantley Aycock, defender of slavery and former Vice President John Caldwell Calhoun of South Carolina, and white supremacist and former Arkansas Sen. James Paul Clarke.

Each state may place two statues of "persons notable in their history" for display in the Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection. H.R. 3005 would require those honoring Confederates be removed and would allow states to replace them.

In a May press release accompanying the introduction of the bill, Hoyer noted that Taney's Dred Scott decision "was a blot on our history and represents the tragic legacy of slavery and racism that should not be celebrated in our country."

"This legislation will remove these commemorations from places of honor and demonstrate that as Americans we do not celebrate those who seek to divide us," said House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, an original co-sponsor of the bill.

Hoyer introduced the same bill in the last Congress. It passed in July by a vote of 305-113, with only Republicans voting no.

Then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the bill from even getting a vote in the Senate, along with hundreds of other pieces of legislation that had passed in the House.

"Every state is allowed two statues, they can trade them out at any time ... a number of states are trading them out now. But I think that's the appropriate way to deal with the statue issue. The states make that decision," the Kentucky Republican said in June 2020. "I think the appropriate way to deal with this issue is to stick with the tradition."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.