The House has approved a bill to remove from the Capitol a bust of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, who authored the court’s Dred Scott decision, and replace it with one of former Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black member of the court.
The body approved the bill by voice vote on Wednesday after the Senate did so last week, sending the measure to President Biden, who is expected to sign it.
Congressional Democrats had been trying to push for the legislation for a couple years. The House passed a bill to remove Taney’s bust in a 285-120 vote in June 2021, but the Senate did not take up the legislation.
The legislation approved Wednesday, which was sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), would direct the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library, which is responsible for overseeing the Library of Congress and art works in the Capitol, to remove Taney’s bust from public display within 45 days of the bill being enacted.
The committee then would have to make an agreement to obtain a bust of Marshall within two years of the legislation going into effect.
The legislation notes Taney’s authorship of the court’s 1857 ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford, in which the court found that enslaved Blacks were not considered citizens and therefore could not sue in federal courts.
Dred Scott was an enslaved African American who sued for his freedom after he was brought to and lived in Illinois, where slavery was prohibited, for a few years. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled 7-2 that slaves did not have rights as citizens and could not sue.
Taney’s ruling also went further, finding that Congress did not have the authority to ban slavery in a federal territory, according to the National Archives.
The bill mentions abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s response to the ruling, in which he said, “This infamous decision of the Slaveholding wing of the Supreme Court maintains that slaves are within the contemplation of the Constitution of the United States, property; that slaves are property in the same sense that horses, sheep, and swine are property.”
The court’s ruling was eventually overturned by the approval of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution.
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The legislation states that removing Taney’s bust does not “relieve” Congress of its “historical wrongs” that it took to protect slavery, but does mean lawmakers are recognizing one of the most “notorious” wrongs that ever happened in one of its rooms.
The bust of Taney is currently placed in the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chamber, where the court met from 1810 to 1860.
The joint committee should prioritize placing Marshall’s bust near that chamber, according to the bill.