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Congress votes to remove a bust of the Dred Scott decision's author from the Capitol

A marble bust of Chief Justice Roger Taney is displayed in the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2020.
J. Scott Applewhite
/
AP
A marble bust of Chief Justice Roger Taney is displayed in the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2020.

The House gave final passage to legislation to replace the bust of Roger Taney, the Supreme Court justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision, in the Capitol with one of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black person to serve on the high court.

The notorious 1857 Dred Scott decision upheld slavery and established that Black people were not U.S. citizens. The legislation, which passed Wednesday and now heads to President Biden's desk, says the bust is "unsuitable for the honor of display to the many visitors to the Capitol."

The statue of Taney sits at the entrance of the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol where the Supreme Court met from 1810 to 1860. Taney, the fifth chief justice, led the court from 1836 to 1864.

"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 says.

Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh ordered the removal of four Confederate monuments, including one of Taney, in 2017. Just two days later, Maryland removed another statue of Taney, who also served as the state's attorney general, from State House grounds.

"Taney's ruling denied Black Americans citizenship, upheld slavery, and contributed, frankly, to the outbreak of the Civil War," Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on the U.S. House floor on Wednesday. "That's why I and so many others advocated for his statue's removal from the Maryland State House."

The removal of Taney's bust is part of a larger movement to topple statues of Confederate figures. Anti-racism demonstrations following the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 led to the removal of nearly 100 Confederate monuments in that year alone.

Congress has voted to replace Taney's bust at the U.S. Capitol with one of Thurgood Marshall,  the first Black associate justice of the Supreme Court.
Bob Schutz / AP
/
AP
Congress has voted to replace Taney's bust at the U.S. Capitol with one of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black associate justice of the Supreme Court.

Taney's bust must be removed within 45 days of the enactment of the bill and a bust of Marshall must be obtained within two years, according to the legislation.

"In removing Taney's bust, I'm not asking that we would hold Taney's to today's moral standards," Hoyer said. "On the contrary, let us hold him who the standard of his contemporaries, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln ... and all of those who understood that the enslavement of others has always been an immoral act."

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Ashley Ahn
Ashley Ahn is an intern for the Digital News and Graphics desks. She previously covered the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for CNN's health and medical unit and the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killers for CNN's Atlanta News Bureau. She also wrote pieces for USA TODAY and served as the Executive Editor of her college's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. Recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Ahn is pursuing a master's degree in computer science at Columbia University.