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House to vote on removal of bust of Roger B. Taney, segregationist who wrote Supreme Court’s Dred Scott ruling

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill on  June 30.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill on June 30. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The House will vote later this month on a bill to remove from the Capitol the bust of Roger B. Taney, the U.S. Supreme Court justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday.

The bill, introduced by Hoyer and Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) in March, would replace the bust of Taney with a bust of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American member of the Supreme Court. The bust of Taney sits outside the old Supreme Court chamber on the first floor of the Capitol.

“A bust of Chief Justice Taney should not be displayed in a place of honor in our nation’s Capitol,” Hoyer said in a statement when he and Trone introduced the legislation. “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.”

In 1857, Taney wrote the majority decision in the case of Dred Scott, a black man born into slavery who used the courts to demand his freedom. Taney’s ruling, which defended slavery and declared that black people could never become U.S. citizens, came to be viewed as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in U.S. history.

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Taney wrote that at the time of the Constitution’s ratification, black people “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; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”

A statue of Taney stood outside the Maryland State House in Annapolis until August 2017, when the State House Trust board voted to have it removed after the deadly violence at a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

Hoyer’s announcement comes amid a broader push by Democrats to remove statues, portraits and other art in the U.S. Capitol honoring Confederate leaders and other controversial figures, at a time of national reckoning over systemic racism in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last month ordered the removal from the Capitol of the portraits of four of her predecessors who served in the Confederacy, saying that “we must lead by example.”

Pelosi in recent weeks has also renewed a years-long quest to remove the remaining Confederate statues from the Capitol.

“Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to these ideals,” she wrote in a June letter to colleagues who co-chair the Joint Committee on the Library. “Their statues pay homage to hate, not heritage. They must be removed.”

Earlier Wednesday, the Congressional Black Caucus revived calls for its agenda, including police reform and the establishment of a commission to examine the effects of slavery and institutional racism. The House last week passed a far-reaching police reform bill, while a narrower GOP-led bill has failed to advance in the Senate. Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.) on Wednesday urged the Senate to take up the House measure, even though the Trump administration has threatened to veto it.

“We will not stop, and the movement for justice will not stop, until the bill is passed in the Senate and signed by the president,” Bass said. “The movement for justice has now expanded to include a call to end systemic racism in the United States.”

A historic Coast Guard cutter named after Taney and docked in Baltimore will also be renamed, local TV station WBAL reported Wednesday.

DeNeen L. Brown contributed to this report.

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