House Passes Bill to Remove Confederate, Racist Statues and Busts
WASHINGTON — A measure seeking to remove the bust of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney — who wrote the opinion in the high court’s Dred Scott decision that ruled Black people were not U.S. citizens — along with other racist and Confederate statues in the Capitol passed the House on a 305-113 vote Wednesday.
It is a legislative response to nationwide calls for statues that honor the country’s discriminatory past to be relocated from prominent locations.
The bill, HR 7573, introduced by House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, would direct the Architect of the Capitol to replace Taney’s bust with another Marylander: Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice. It would also remove all statues of people who voluntarily served the Confederacy. The Joint Committee on the Library of Congress, which has oversight of statues and art in the Capitol, would move to place Marshall’s bust in the Old Supreme Court Chamber within two years.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a former North Carolina state judge whose great grandmother was a slave, said at a news conference Wednesday the decision authored by Taney is the worst in Supreme Court history.
“I would argue that the Dred Scott decision, in 1857, was arguably the worst opinion that the Supreme Court of the United States has ever, ever handed down,” the North Carolina Democrat said.
Charles Aycock of North Carolina, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and James Paul Clarke of Arkansas, although not members of the Confederacy, were white supremacists and are specifically named in the bill as statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection that would be removed. The bust of John Cabell Breckinridge, a Kentucky senator and vice president in the Buchanan administration who was expelled in 1861 for joining the Confederacy, would also be removed.
“It’s time to sweep away the last vestiges of Jim Crow and the dehumanizing of individuals because of the color of their skin that intruded for too long on the sacred spaces of our Democracy,” Hoyer said.
States represented by statues tagged for removal would be required to pay for their return. If the state doesn’t want to pay to bring the statue back, the Architect of the Capitol would move the statue to the Smithsonian Institution. Toward that end, $2 million would go to the Architect of the Capitol to execute the removal process and $3 million would go to the Smithsonian.
A Congressional Budget Office report estimates the replacement of racist busts and statues would cost $5 million.
House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina stressed the legislation has nothing to do with “destroying statues,” adding that he doesn’t want anyone tearing down any statues, but rather wants to “put them in a museum.”
Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass of California joked that the statues should perhaps be placed in the nonexistent House jail.
“I have heard that somewhere in the Capitol there is a jail that people were in put in at one point in time and maybe that would be a proper location for these statues,” the California Democrat said.
Hoyer’s bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Barbara Lee of California, Clyburn, Bass, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Butterfield.
Congress authorized the National Statuary Hall Collection in 1864 to allow each state to donate two statues of notable citizens “illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services” for display in the Capitol.
Currently, states can ask the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress to approve a replacement. Before this can happen, the state’s legislature must adopt a resolution and the governor must sign off. The statue in question must have been displayed in the Capitol for at least 10 years. The committee can waive the requirement for cause if the state wants.
Since the May 25 murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in the custody of Minneapolis police, protests across the nation have demanded racial equality when it comes to policing and have advocated for symbols of the country’s racist past to be removed from places of public admiration.
In response, Speaker Nancy Pelosi in June called for the removal Confederate statues from the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection. Last month, Pelosi also directed the removal of four portraits in the Capitol that were of former speakers who served in the Confederacy: Robert Hunter of Virginia, Howell Cobb of Georgia, James Orr of South Carolina and Charles Crisp of Georgia.
The House’s $4.2 billion Legislative Branch Appropriations bill overlaps with Hoyer’s bill — it would remove 14 statues and two busts, including Taney’s.
Hoyer invoked his late colleague, civil rights legend John Lewis, D-Ga., who died last Friday.
“If John were here, he would be speaking with us, and to you, about this effort,” Hoyer told a reporter.
The bill now heads to the Senate.
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