Congress Seeks to Replace Statues of Confederates in U.S. Capitol
WASHINGTON — America’s racial reckoning that started last year continued Monday with a House hearing on removing statuary from the U.S. Capitol that depicts Confederate sympathizers.
In one case, a pending bill would replace a statue of a U.S. Supreme Court justice who endorsed slavery with a bust of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the court.
A House vote expected as soon as this week is facing minimal opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. A similar bill is pending in the Senate, where it also is winning broad support.
“Symbols tell the world who we are and what we stand for,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., chairman of the House Rules Committee.
The Confederate Monument Removal Act was introduced by Democrats in both the House and Senate on Feb. 23, 2021.
It would prohibit “a state from providing for display in National Statuary Hall a statue of a person who voluntarily served with the Confederate States of America, and it provides for the removal, return, and replacement of any statue currently on display that depicts such a person.”
At least 10 statues would be removed under the bill. Some of them have stood in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall for a century.
They were placed there under authority of 1864 legislation that authorized each state to submit two statues of local heroes. They include Thomas Edison from Ohio, Will Rogers from Oklahoma, George Washington from Virginia and Ronald Wilson Reagan from California.
However, they also include Jefferson Davis and Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the president and vice president of the Confederacy.
The statue that grabbed the most attention during the House Rules Committee hearing was the one depicting Roger Brooke Taney, the former chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and a Maryland native.
He delivered the majority opinion in the notorious 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, ruling that African Americans could not be considered U.S. citizens and that Congress lacked authority to prohibit slavery. During the Civil War, he sympathized with southern states and blamed President Abraham Lincoln for the conflict.
Even Maryland native Rep. Jamie Raskin wants Taney’s statue removed from its pedestal in Statuary Hall.
“He wanted our union to stand on the principle of White supremacy,” Raskin, a Democrat, said.
Like other members of Congress, he wants Taney replaced with Thurgood Marshall, who successfully argued the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case as an attorney before being appointed to the Supreme Court.
Republicans on the Rules Committee agreed that Confederate statues should be removed but expressed concern about the procedure.
The choice of statues is supposed to be left to the states under the original federal legislation, which gives no authority to Congress to override their discretion.
The Confederate Monument Removal Act would not take away a state’s choice but would subject it to federal approval.
“The processes are clearly flawed,” Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said about the pending federal legislation.
However, even Republican critics of the procedure, such as Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said they were glad to see Congress addressing the issue.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Cole said.
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