Capital Clicks

U.S. House votes to scuttle statues of Confederate leaders, bust of Dred Scott author

By: - June 29, 2021 8:26 pm

The U.S. House voted June 29, 2021, to remove the bust of the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney from the Capitol. (U.S. Senate photo)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Tuesday to remove from the Capitol a bust of the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, a Marylander who wrote the despised Dred Scott decision — as well as evict statues and busts of men who fought for the Confederacy or served in its government.

The legislation passed on a vote of 285-120, with all the nay votes from Republicans and 67 of them voting with Democrats. Iowa’s delegation split, with Democrat Cindy Axne and Republican Ashley Hinson voting yes and Republicans Randy Feenstra and Mariannette Miller-Meeks voting no.

The measure would replace the marble bust of Taney, which is displayed outside the old Supreme Court chamber on the first floor of the Capitol, with one of the late Thurgood Marshall, a fellow Marylander who was the first Black member of the Supreme Court.

Taney wrote the majority opinion in 1857 in Dred Scott, a case initiated in Missouri. The ruling, which provoked intense opposition in the North, said that people of African descent were not citizens and had no right to bring suit in federal court—effectively upholding slavery.

The House bill also would direct the Architect of the Capitol to remove other statues and busts of individuals connected with the Confederacy. The bill specifically mentions three men who promoted slavery and segregation — Charles B. Aycock, of North Carolina; John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina; and James P. Clarke, of Arkansas.

At least eight other statues and busts would be poised for removal under the measure, based on a preliminary assessment from staffers for Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who introduced the bill.

A similar bill passed the Democratic-controlled House last year on a bipartisan vote of 305-113, with 72 Republicans joining Democrats in support. But it did not advance in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Democrats now hold a slim majority.

“It is never too late to do the right thing,” Hoyer said during Tuesday’s floor debate, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. “And this, today, is the right thing. It reflects our growth as a state as we have confronted the most difficult parts of our history.”

Each state contributes two statues of people of historical importance to be displayed in the Capitol. Those statues can be replaced by state officials, who select who will be depicted and raise money for the statue’s creation.

The Joint Committee on the Library of Congress can approve or deny state requests to replace their statues, and determines where those statues are displayed in the Capitol.

Under the bill now awaiting a Senate vote, the statues with Confederate ties would be sent back to their respective states.

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Laura Olson
Laura Olson

Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Iowa Capital Dispatch. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.