An African American state senator from Maryland wants to censure Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. for his defense of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, author of the infamous Dred Scott decision, whose statue was removed from the State House grounds last week.
Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s), who is running for county executive in 2018 and would give up his Senate seat if he won, said the legislative chamber needs to send “an unequivocal message” to Miller (D-Calvert) that it does not agree with his support of Taney. The justice’s 1857 opinion said blacks could not be U.S. citizens and had no rights other than those given by whites.
“In light of the tragic and violent events in Charlottesville and concerns about promoting and inciting a climate of racial hatred and division in our nation, I would hope that the majority of my colleagues will join me in strongly rebuking the senate president’s remarks as well as those expressed by President Trump and others who would defend what Justice Taney stood for,” Muse, who introduced a measure to remove the statue last year, said in a statement.
Jake Weissman, a spokesman for Miller, declined to comment.
Miller, the longest-serving Senate president in the country, is a member of the Maryland State House Trust, the four-member panel that voted 3 to 0 last week to remove the 145-year-old statue. The 46-year lawmaker, who has long defended the statue as an important piece of Maryland history, refused to vote.
He sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) arguing that the panel, which traditionally votes by email, should have held a public meeting to discuss removing the statue.
Miller, an avid reader of history, also defended Taney’s character, describing him as a man with a “complex” past.
“Unlike George Washington who freed his slaves upon his death, Taney freed his slaves early in his life,” the letter said.
“Roger Brooke Taney was not a Confederate officer and he remained loyal to the Union until his death in 1864,” Miller wrote. “Many historians have debated the conflicting anti-slavery words and works of Roger Brooke Taney.”
Miller said he agreed with an 1864 editorial in the New York Times that Taney’s decision, “wrong as it was, did not spring from a corrupt or malignant heart.”
Hogan opposed removing the statue in 2015 but reversed his opinion after watching the deadly violence in Charlottesville this month that followed a rally in support of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“We can’t wipe out all of our history, nor should we try to,” the governor said. “But when it reaches the point where some of these symbols, whether they have historical significance or not, when they become a focal point for racism and violence, then it’s time to do something about it.”
The state Senate cannot consider Muse’s resolution until January, when the General Assembly reconvenes for its 90-day session.
The last time the chamber censured one of its own was in 2012, when it voted to censure Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s) for failing to disclose that he had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees. Currie was acquitted of federal corruption charges after a six-week jury trial in which a who’s-who of Maryland politicians appeared as character witnesses.