News Article

So long, Taney: Bust of justice who wrote notorious Dred Scott decision removed from US Capitol
February 9, 2023


By: Ian Decker

WASHINGTON ― The bust of Roger Taney, the justice who wrote the notorious 1857 Dred Scott decision that ruled African Americans were not citizens, has been removed from the United States Capitol, capping off an effort led by U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer.

The statue will be replaced by a new work honoring the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, a champion of civil rights.

Taney’s bust for years was in the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol. Its removal was announced Monday by the senators and Hoyer, all Democrats

Cardin and Van Hollen sponsored legislation passed in December directing the removal of Taney’s bust and the placement of a new bust of Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court.

“Roger Taney and others who actively helped prolong slavery should find no home within the walls of the U.S. Capitol,” Cardin said in a statement. “Thurgood Marshall helped advance civil rights in this nation and inspired a generation of legal minds. … It is wholly appropriate that such a legal icon have a place of honor.”

In one of the most infamous decisions the court has issued, Taney, born in Calvert County, Maryland, delivered the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford, which refused Black Americans the right to citizenship and ruled unconstitutional the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which sought to limit the spread of slavery in new territories in the upper Plains and the West.

Marshall, born in Baltimore in 1908, became one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights lawyers and argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court. He was nominated to the high court by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967 and confirmed later that year. Marshall retired from the court in 1991 and died on Jan. 24, 1993.

“It’s fitting that we’ve finally removed from display the likeness of former Justice Taney, who … used his power on the Supreme Court to deny African Americans their most basic legal rights,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “In its place we will see the bust of former Justice Thurgood Marshall, a Marylander we are proud to celebrate for his trailblazing efforts to advance civil rights and justice for all.”

Replacing Taney with Marshall is part of a recent movement to eliminate artwork commemorating former slave-owning and Confederate historical figures from prominent locations in the Capitol. The House in June 2021 voted to remove all Confederate statues and busts in the Capitol from public display, but the measure did not clear the Senate.

A recent Washington Post analysis of more than 400 works of art in the Capitol found that over 33% depicted enslavers or Confederates — most notably, the statues of Jefferson Davis, Christopher Columbus and Joseph Wheeler, a Confederate cavalry general who staunchly supported secession.

“When millions of visitors to the Capitol walked past Taney’s bust each year, they saw the worst that America has to offer,” Hoyer said in a statement. “Thanks to this same legislation, they will soon see the best America has to offer when walking past a new bust of civil-rights icon Justice Thurgood Marshall.”

In Annapolis, Maryland lawmakers also have shown a willingness to replace historical figures with unscrupulous pasts with those who positively contributed to society. Five years ago, a statue of Taney was removed from the grounds of the Maryland State House in Annapolis. Just last month, legislators worked to successfully replace a portrait of likely enslaver Cecilus Calvert with Marshall in the Maryland Senate building in Annapolis.

The Cardin-Van Hollen legislation charges the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress with obtaining, and most likely commissioning, a bust of Marshall.

Under the joint committee’s direction, the Architect of the Capitol will install the bust in a prominent location near the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol.