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August 26, 2022

Democrats press Senate to vote on bill removing Dred Scott justice bust from Capitol

Credit: The Hill, Mychael Schnell

Top House Democrats are pressing the Senate to vote on a bill to remove the bust of former Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, the author of the Dred Scott v. Sanford ruling, from the Capitol.

In June 2021, the House passed a bill 285-120 that would replace the bust of Taney with that of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and remove statues of individuals who served in the Confederacy. All opposition came from Republican lawmakers.

The legislation, however, has not yet been brought up for a vote in the Senate, which House Democrats are now pushing for.

In a letter on Friday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and other Democrats asked that the upper chamber bring up the bill for a vote “without delay” as the end of the current Congress approaches.

“Memorialization as part of the collection of artwork in the U.S. Capitol is one of the highest honors available to Americans and those who have stood with our country in defense of liberty and democracy. It is shameful that individuals who fought to uphold slavery, participated in seditious rebellion, or worked to promote segregation remain honored in such a way,” the House Democrats wrote.

The note was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rules Committee Ranking Member Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

House Democrats said it is “an indignity” that African American individuals in the Senate are “confronted with these memorials to those who viewed African Americans as inferior and unworthy of full and equal inclusion under our Constitution.”

“It is essential that we correct this injustice now,” the lawmakers add.

Hoyer introduced the bill in May 2021.

Taney wrote the majority opinion in the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, in which the Supreme Court upheld slavery and ruled that Black people could not be American citizens. The 13th Amendment abolishing slavery and the 14th Amendment granting citizenship to all individuals born in the U.S. overturned the ruling.

Hoyer, Clyburn and others previously penned a letter to Schumer in September asking that the Senate hold a vote on the bill.

Friday’s letter cited the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, noting that “Americans were shocked and appalled to see the Confederate battle flag carried into the Capitol by  insurrectionists; African-American Members, staff, and visitors must see just as poignant a symbol of injustice every single day in the likenesses of these individuals who were at the root of what that flag represents.”

“That must end,” they added.

The Democrats specifically called for the removal of busts of former Vice President John C. Calhoun, who defended slavery, and Jefferson Davis, who served as president of the Confederate States of America, among others.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.), Karen Bass (Calif.) G.K. Butterfield (N.C.), Bennie Thompson (Miss.), Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), John Sarbanes (Md.), Anthony Brown (Md.), Jamie Raskin (Md.), David Trone (Md.), Kweisi Mfume (Md.), Jim McGovern (N.J.), Nikema Williams (Ga.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) joined Hoyer and Clyburn in signing the letter.