Hoyer Says House Will Vote This Month to Remove Bust of ‘Dred Scott’ Author

July 2, 2020 by Dan McCue
A marble bust of Chief Justice Roger Taney in the U.S. Capitol's Old Supreme Court Chamber. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters at his weekly pen and pad session that the House will vote later this month to remove the bust of Chief Justice Roger Taney from the U.S. Capitol.

Taney wrote the infamous majority opinion in the 1857 Dred Scott case, in which the high court ruled that Black people “are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.”

Hoyer said Wednesday the ruling was “a terrible, terrible decision inconsistent with what America stands for, and what America said it stood for, and its Declaration of Independence.”

Scott, an enslaved Black man, sued for his freedom after his owners took him from Missouri — a slave-holding state — into the Missouri Territory, most of which had been designated “free” territory by the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

When his owners later brought him back into Missouri, Scot sued in state court, arguing that the act of taking him into the free territory automatically set him free and that he was no longer a slave.

When the state court ruled against him, he took his case to federal court, but also lost there, setting up his appeal to the Supreme Court.

Taney handed down the court’s 7-2 decision in March 1857. Again, the ruling went against Scott, but two month later, he, his wife and their two daughters were freed by their owner. Scott died a year later of tuberculosis.

Hoyer’s bill, which was introduced in early March, would remove Taney’s bust from the entrance of the old Supreme Court chamber at the Capitol and replace it with a bust of Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, D-Calif., and House Rules Chair Jim McGovern, D-Mass., along with five other Democratic members of Maryland’s House delegation, are co-sponsors of the bill.

House Democrats have been removing memorials to racist historical figures at a rapid clip since the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, Minn. in May.

Days later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for the removal of nearly a dozen statues of Confederate leaders from the Capitol.

The day before Juneteenth, Pelosi also ordered four portraits of former House speakers who served in the Confederacy to be taken down from the halls of the Capitol.

“It is far past time where people ought not to be celebrating the Confederacy, but understanding that it was an aberration,” Hoyer said. “Unfortunately, it was a widespread aberration, but an aberration of our principles.”

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