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House to vote on removal of bust of Dred Scott decision author from Capitol

The House on Wednesday is slated to vote on a bill that would remove a bust at the U.S. Capitol of Roger B. Taney, the former Supreme Court chief justice who authored the majority opinion protecting slavery in Dred Scott v. Sandford.

In 1857, Taney wrote the decision in the case of Scott — a Black man born into slavery who used the courts to demand his freedom — that Black people were not U.S. citizens and could not expect protections from the federal government.

People of African descent, Taney wrote then, “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” A Black person, Taney added, “might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”

Taney’s opinion, which also stated that Congress could not prohibit slavery from U.S. territories, came to be viewed as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in history. A bust of Taney’s likeness sits outside the old Supreme Court Chamber on the first floor of the Capitol.

If approved, the bill would direct the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library to remove Taney’s bust not more than 45 days after the bill is signed into law. The bill would also direct the committee to replace Taney’s bust with one of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice.

The Senate passed the measure by voice vote last week. Upon House approval, the bill would head to President Biden for his signature.

“Taney’s authorship of Dred Scott … renders a bust of his likeness unsuitable for the honor of display to the many visitors to the Capitol,” the text of the bill states. “While the removal of [Taney’s] bust from the 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 …”

Legislation to remove Taney’s bust was first introduced by Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) in March 2020. (Taney, like Hoyer and Trone, was from Maryland.) That bill passed the House that year on a 305-to-113 vote but did not advance in the Senate, then controlled by Republicans.

Hoyer told reporters Tuesday that Taney’s interpretation of the Constitution is one that every American should reject.

“The good news is not only are we replacing the Taney statue, but we also provide for a bust of Chief Justice Marshall,” Hoyer said.

The vote to remove Taney’s likeness comes amid a push in recent years by Democrats to remove statues, portraits and other art in the Capitol honoring Confederate leaders and other controversial figures. The House voted last year to remove statues of Confederate leaders from the Capitol, and a statue of Taney was removed from the Maryland State House in 2017.

Upon reintroducing the bill last year, House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) pointed to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, during which some supporters of then-President Donald Trump carried Confederate flags.

“There are still vestiges that remain in this sacred building that glorify people and a movement that embraced that flag and sought to divide and destroy our great country,” Clyburn said then. “This legislation will remove these commemorations from places of honor and demonstrate that as Americans we do not celebrate those who seek to divide us.”

Mariana Alfaro, Eugene Scott and John Wagner contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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