Biden signs bill to remove bust of chief justice who authored Dred Scott decision
President Biden signed a bill on Tuesday that removes the bust of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, author of the infamous Dred Scott decision, from the Capitol Building.
The bill, which passed the House and Senate unanimously earlier this month, instructs the bust to be replaced with one of Justice Thurgood Marshall, a civil rights icon and the first Black Supreme Court justice.
The president thanked several Democratic lawmakers who ushered the bill through Congress, including Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Corey Booker, D-N.J., as well as Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.
“While the removal of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s bust from the Capitol does not relieve the Congress of the historical wrongs it committed to protect the institution of slavery, it expresses Congress’s recognition of one of the most notorious wrongs to have ever taken place in one of its rooms, that of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s Dred Scott v. Sandford decision,” the legislation states.
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The bill acknowledged that Taney’s 1857 Dred Scott decision, “declared that African Americans were not citizens of the United States and could not sue in Federal courts. This decision further declared that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.”
Taney’s opinion was legally binding until the United States ratified the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery, granted citizenship to African-Americans and guaranteed equal protection under the law, and extended the right to vote to former slaves.
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“Thurgood Marshall was an inspiration who helped tear down the walls of segregation in America. It is wholly appropriate that such a civil rights and legal icon displace Roger Taney in the U.S. Capitol,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said in a statement after the Senate passed the bill. “Both hailed from Maryland, but Marshall was a beacon of hope for racial equality. His uplifting voice of equality and opportunity is exactly what our nation needs at this moment.”
The bust of Taney, the nation’s fifth chief justice, who led the court from 1836 to 1864, currently sits inside the entrance to the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol, where the high court met from 1810 until 1860. Statues of Taney were previously removed in his home state of Maryland.
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The legislation directs the removal of the bust within 45 days of the bill being enacted into law. It will then remain in the custody of the Senate curator. It also calls for entering into an agreement to obtain a bust of Marshall within two years, and that priority for its location should be near the Old Supreme Court Chamber.
Online News 72h’ Bradford Betz contributed to this report.