House approves removal of bust of justice who wrote decision protecting slavery

The House has approved the removal from the Capitol of the bust of former Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, who wrote the infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court decision denying African Americans U.S. citizenship and protecting the institution of slavery.

The measure, passed by a voice vote Wednesday afternoon, directs the Joint Committee on Congress on the Library to remove his bust and replace it with a one depicting late Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black American to serve on the Supreme Court. The Senate passed the legislation last week, meaning it now heads to President Biden’s desk. The House passed a similar version last year, but the Senate failed to take it up.

“While the removal of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s bust from the Capitol does not relieve the Congress of the historical wrongs it committed to protect the institution of slavery, it expresses Congress’s recognition of one of the most notorious wrongs to have ever taken place in one of its rooms, that of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s Dred Scott v. Sandford decision,” the bill, authored by Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, reads. 

Dred Scott was a Black slave who sued for his freedom, arguing that because he had lived in Wisconsin and Illinois, both free states, that he should be granted his freedom. Taney, in a 7-2 majority opinion in the case, declared that because Scott was Black, he was not a citizen and did not have standing to sue. African Americans “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” Taney wrote. 

“Justice Marshall encapsulates the true values of our country,” Van Hollen said after the House passed the measure Wednesday. “He argued for true equality before the court in landmark cases including Brown v. Board of Education that bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice. His work is a constant reminder that we must continue pressing forward towards a more perfect union grounded in true freedom and liberty. Meanwhile, Chief Justice Taney only sought to sow division and hate.”

In a statement last week after the Senate passed the measure, Cardin lauded Marshall’s leadership. 

“Thurgood Marshall was an inspiration who helped tear down the walls of segregation in America,” said Cardin. “It is wholly appropriate that such a civil rights and legal icon displace Roger Taney in the U.S. Capitol. Both hailed from Maryland, but Marshall was a beacon of hope for racial equality. His uplifting voice of equality and opportunity is exactly what our nation needs at this moment.”

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