WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05) introduced legislation to remove a bust of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney from public display in the U.S. Capitol and replace it with a bust of Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall. Taney, the Maryland-born Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1836-1864, wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case on March 6, 1857, which declared that African Americans could not be citizens of the United States and struck down limits on the expansion of slavery. This past Friday marked the 163rd anniversary of that ruling, which continues to be a mark of shame for the United States. Currently, a bust of Taney is displayed prominently alongside those of his four predecessors, Chief Justices John Jay, John Rutledge, Oliver Ellsworth, and John Marshall, in the U.S. Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chamber, seen by millions of visitors each year. The legislation introduced today would replace Taney’s bust with one of Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, who in 1967 became the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court.
“A bust of Chief Justice Taney should not be displayed in a place of honor in our nation’s Capitol,” Congressman Hoyer said. “In Maryland we made the decision to remove a statue of Taney from the State House grounds, reflecting his shameful contribution to the evil system of slavery and its defense, and we ought to do the same here. ‘We are better than this,’ as our late colleague Elijah Cummings would say. It is time to make it clear to visitors from across our nation and from abroad that America celebrates champions of inclusion and equality, not proponents of hate and injustice.”
Original cosponsors of Congressman Hoyer’s bill are Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Karen Bass (CA-37), House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (MA-02), and Members of Maryland’s Congressional delegation, including Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02), John Sarbanes (MD-03), Anthony G. Brown (MD-04), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), and David Trone (MD-06).
“The people’s house can never really be for the people, with reminders of a painful history that sought to eliminate our existence,” said Chairwoman Bass. "We are entering a new era where we are reexamining our history and acknowledging that the physical reminders of white supremacy, cannot continue to be celebrated. With initiatives such as the 1619 Project which commemorated the 400 years of enslavement in America, the CBC’s historic trip to Ghana, the opening of an exhibit dedicated to Sally Hemmings in Jefferson’s Monticello mansion, and the creation of the Slave Memorial at Mount Vernon shows us that US history is being retold- the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is time to replace the monuments of oppression with the monuments of liberty. The removal of Chief Justice Taney’s bust is long overdue in our nation’s capital. I am proud to join Leader Hoyer today as a co-sponsor for this bill to erect a bust of Justice Thurgood Marshall to replace the bust of Chief Justice Taney.”
“America’s Capitol Building ought to celebrate freedom and equality – not those who tried to defend racism and slavery,” said Congressman McGovern. “Removing this bust from the Capitol is the right thing to do. Having Roger Taney’s statue here sends the wrong message to the members, staffers, and millions of visitors who walk through these doors every year. It’s time to live up to our values and honor those who opposed injustice – not those who perpetuated it.”
Maryland has a rich history that we can all be proud of. Unfortunately, the life and legacy of Supreme Court Justice Taney is a stain on that history,” Congressman Ruppersberger said. “Displays in the U.S. Capitol should be reserved for Americans and patriots who reflect our country’s democratic principles – that we are the land of the free. I am proud to join Leader Hoyer and several of my Maryland colleagues in seeking to set the record straight by replacing Taney’s bust with that of an American who truly reflects our values.”
“In our long, ongoing march toward a more perfect union, it’s our responsibility to extol American icons who fought for justice and equality, not glorify those who fought to preserve slavery and oppression,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “Following in the footsteps of states like Maryland – which recently removed a Taney statue from the front lawn of the Maryland State House – we’re taking an important step forward today to remove the bust of Roger Taney from the U.S. Capitol and replace it with a bust of Justice Thurgood Marshall, a champion of civil rights.”
“American heroes have fought and died to secure freedom and equality under the law for our fellow citizens - Chief Justice Taney instead stood in their way,” said Congressman Anthony G. Brown. “In using his position to deny basic human rights to black Americans, Justice Taney enshrined racism, bigotry and discrimination into this nation’s jurisprudence for a century. Were it up to Justice Taney, many of my colleagues and I would not be able to serve our constituents in the halls of Congress. He is undeserving of a place of honor in the U.S. Capitol. Our monuments should lift up those who led the way toward more perfect union; Justice Marshall was one such hero.”
“In the statues and busts of the U.S. Capitol, Maryland should be represented by the man who put the Supreme Court on the side of justice and civil rights, not the man who put the Supreme Court on the side of slavery and oppression,” said Congressman Raskin.
“The Dred Scott v. Sanford Supreme Court decision is a stain on our country's history, and it was made under the Taney Court,” said Congressman Trone. “It’s time for us to remove this statue and denounce the institutions of slavery and racism once and for all. They have no place in the United States Capitol or anywhere in our country.”
To read the full text of the resolution, click here or see below:
To direct the Architect of the Capitol to replace the bust of Roger Brooke Taney in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the United States Capitol with a bust of Thurgood Marshall to be obtained by the Joint Committee on the Library, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. FINDINGS.
Congress finds the following:
(1) 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.
(2) 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.
(3) As Frederick Douglass said of this decision in May 1857, ‘‘This infamous decision of the Slaveholding wing of the Supreme Court maintains that slaves are within the contemplation of the Constitution of the United States, property; that slaves are
property in the same sense that horses, sheep, and swine are property; that the old doctrine that slavery is a creature of local law is false; that the right of the slaveholder to his slave does not depend upon the local law, but is secured wherever the Constitution of the United States extends; that Congress has no right to prohibit slavery anywhere; that slavery may go in safety anywhere under the star-spangled
banner; that colored persons of African descent have no rights that white men are bound to respect; that colored men of African descent are not and cannot be citizens of the United States.’’.
(4) While the removal of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s bust from the United States 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.
SEC. 2. REPLACEMENT OF BUST OF ROGER BROOKE TANEY WITH BUST OF THURGOOD MARSHALL.
(a) REMOVAL OF BUST OF ROGER BROOKE TANEY.—Not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Architect of the Capitol shall remove the bust of Roger Brooke Taney in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the United States Capitol.
(b) REPLACEMENT WITH BUST OF THURGOOD MARSHALL.—
(1) OBTAINING BUST.—Not later than 2 years after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Joint Committee on the Library shall enter into an agreement to obtain a bust of Thurgood Marshall, under such terms and conditions as the Joint Committee considers appropriate consistent with applicable law.
(2) PLACEMENT.—The Joint Committee on the Library shall place the bust obtained under paragraph (1) in the location in the Old Supreme Court
Chamber of the United States Capitol where the bust of Roger Brooke Taney was located prior to removal by the Architect of the Capitol under subsection (a).
(c) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.—There are authorized to be appropriated such sums as may be necessary to carry out this Act, and any amounts so appropriated shall remain available until expended.