The current Democrat-controlled House on Tuesday approved the removal of the bust of a former Supreme Court Justice. The measure calls for replacing the one presenting Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, who ruled in favor of slave owners in the 1857 case of Dred Scott.
The bill also authorizes the placement of a bust of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall someplace in the Capitol. Marshall, a native of Baltimore, was appointed as the court’s first Black justice in 1967, the Washington Examiner reported.
The Taney bust is to be taken down not later than 45 days after the bill’s enactment, and a bust of Marshall is to take its place not later than two years after the previous bust has been taken down.
The removal of Taney’s bust corresponds with Congress’s more general efforts in recent years to have similar Civil War-era statues removed. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s statue from was taken down from the Capitol in 2020.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 167 Confederate memorials were taken down across the country after the police killing of black man George Floyd in 2020, which spurred protests against police brutality on a global scale.
According to the Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling from 1857, neither free nor enslaved African Americans were considered citizens of the United States. Consequently, they were not protected by the U.S. Constitution. The ruling remained a part of American law up until the final year of the Civil War, 1865. Shortly after, the 13th and 14th Amendments were passed.
The new bill states that while removing Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s statue from the Capitol expresses Congress’ acknowledgment of one of the most infamous wrongs ever committed in one of its nineteen rooms, it does not absolve Congress of historical wrongdoings it committed in defending the institution of slavery.
After the Senate unanimously approved the bill, it was sent to Joe Biden for a signature.
Steny Hoyer, the majority leader of the House of Representatives (D-MD) and a strong supporter of the legislation, asserted that people like Taney belong in history textbooks and classroom discussions and not in bronze on a prominent exhibition of honor.
The reason that Marshall is so well-known is because of his past work as a civil rights attorney who fought against Jim Crow laws and worked to end segregation in the country. One of his most well-known decisions before joining the court was Brown v. Board of Education, in which the justices at the time decided that separate but equal facilities breached the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Cecilia Marshall, the first black justice’s wife, died last month at the age of 94, and the bill’s approval is one way to honor her late husband.
The bill was decisively approved in the House last year by a vote of 305 to 113, but it did not move further in the Senate.