Senators Join Hoyer In Urging Replacement of Dred Scott Author’s Statue

June 4, 2020 by Dan McCue
Thurgood Marshall on June 13, 1967, the President Lyndon Baines Johnson announced his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy the National Archives Identifier 2803441)

WASHINGTON – Maryland’s Democratic Sens. Benjamin Cardin and Chris Van Hollen on Wednesday introduced legislation in their chamber to replace the bust of Roger B. Taney, author of the Supreme Court’s racist Dred Scott decision, currently on display in the U.S. Capitol, with one of former Justice Thurgood Marshall.

In March, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, joined by every Democratic member of Maryland’s House delegation, filed similar legislation, declaring “a bust of Chief Justice Taney should not be displayed in a place of honor in our nation’s capital.”

Speaking on the floor of the House chamber at the time, 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.”

Taney, the Maryland-born Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1836-1864, wrote the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sanford, which declared that African-Americans could not be citizens of the United States and struck down limits on the expansion of slavery. 

Last March marked the 163rd anniversary of that ruling, which continues to be a mark of shame for the United States.

Taney’s marble bust, completed by noted artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1877, sits in the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol, alongside those of his four predecessors, Chief Justices John Jay, John Rutledge, Oliver Ellsworth, and John Marshall.

It is estimated the bust is seen by at least one million people each year.

Both the House and Senate bills call for replacing the bust of Taney with one of Marshall. Marshall was a Baltimore native and successful attorney who argued several civil rights cases before the high court, including Brown v. Board of Education, before being named a justice himself in 1967.

Marshall, the Court’s first African-American justice, served with distinction until October 1991. He died on Jan 24, 1993, at the age of 84.

“As our country continues to grapple with the past and future of civil rights and systemic racism, we should highlight leaders in history that have propelled us towards justice and put an end to the glorification of those who stood in its way,” Van Hollen said in a statement Wednesday.

“From his neighborhood in Baltimore to the halls of the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall worked his entire life to help build civil rights in America from the ground up,” Van Hollen continued. “Marshall’s work is a crucial reminder that we must continue pressing forward. His steadfast legacy should be memorialized in the halls of Congress and never forgotten.”

Cardin called Marshall an “inspiration, a person who propelled his rise from West Baltimore to the highest court in the country through hard work, intellectual evolution and unwavering morality.”

“A civil rights icon, Thurgood Marshall argued cases that began to bring down the walls of segregation in his home state and nationwide,” the senator said. “Among other landmark cases, his arguments in Murray vs. Pearson led to the desegregation of the University of Maryland School of Law and his arguments in Brown vs. Board of Education led this nation to recognize that the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ was antithetical to our ideals of freedom and liberty.

“I can think of no better person for us to highlight and celebrate in the U.S. Capitol,” he added.

Adding statues of people of color and removing Confederate and racist figures from Statuary Hall and other parts of the Capitol has been championed by lawmakers in recent years. But statues of figures like Confederate President Jefferson Davis and military commander Robert E. Lee remain.

Speaking in March, Hoyer recalled the words of his late colleague, Rep. Elijah Cummings, telling his fellow members of Congress, “We are better than this.”

“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,” Hoyer said.

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