Press Release ● Congress
For Immediate Release: 
March 9, 2020
Contact Info: 
Annaliese Davis 202-225-3130
WASHINGTON, DC –  Today, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered remarks at a press conference on legislation he introduced to remove a bust of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney from public display in the U.S. Capitol and replace it with a bust of Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall.  Taney, the Maryland-born Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1836-1864, wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case on March 6, 1857, which declared that African Americans could not be citizens of the United States and struck down limits on the expansion of slavery. This past Friday marked the 163rd anniversary of that ruling. Below is a transcript of Leader Hoyer’s remarks:

“Good afternoon. Thank you very much for being here. I am pleased to be joined by Karen Bass, the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; Jim McGovern, the Chairman of the Rules Committee; and three of my Maryland colleagues, Mr. [Dutch] Ruppersberger, Mr. [John] Sarbanes, and Mr. [Jamie] Raskin. Mr. [Anthony] Brown and Mr. [David] Trone are also joining [in co-sponsoring the legislation], but could not be here at this particular time.

“Mr. McGovern and I returned last night from three days with [Rep.] John Lewis in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, Alabama, where we walked with John Lewis on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. That, of course, is a holy site, a hallowed site where America was confronted with its failing to make sure that the phrase that was used of ‘all men are created equal’ by our Founders was being honored only in the breach, not in the following.

“This past Friday marked the anniversary of the 1857 Dred Scott ruling, which was a mark of shame on our country’s history. That ruling said that African Americans could not be American citizens, and it upheld slavery and endorsed its spread around the country. That decision was, of course, wrong and no longer is the position of the Supreme Court.

“Having said that, every time you go into the Old Supreme Court [Chamber] here in the Capitol of the United States from the side entrance, not from the hallway but from what used to be the front door of the Capitol before the East Front was built, you see a bust, and that bust is of Roger Brooke Taney, who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and wrote the Dred Scott decision. I have long believed that was inappropriate. And indeed, the statute of Roger Brooke Taney that was on the East Front of the Capitol in Annapolis has been removed, while there remains on the West Front the Thurgood Marshall Park.

“That’s why I, along with my colleagues, am introducing a resolution today to remove Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s bust from the Old Supreme Court Chamber. This resolution would replace it with a bust of a great American and great Marylander and a great fighter for the proposition that all men [are created equal] - and certainly we would say all women today. And hopefully, although obviously not carried out, that is what all of us mean when we say all human kind are created equal in the image of God… [We would] replace it with [a bust of Justice] Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. That is the history that millions of visitors to the Capitol should be celebrating.

“In Annapolis, at the Maryland State House, as I said, the statute of [Chief Justice] Roger B. Taney was removed in 2017. Too late, but as I said when we passed the antilynching bill two weeks ago, it is never too late to do the right thing. Madam Chair, thank you for your leadership in making that happen.

“Today, we are standing here as Marylanders and as the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus to ensure a place of honor is occupied by a bust of one who deserves that honor and reflects the best of America.
 
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“It is important for us, as has been said, to recognize what is right and to be taught what was wrong. I think, John, you called it a ‘teachable moment.’ I think that’s accurate. I hope guides, when they lead [tour groups] in, and we have the bust of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall there at the entrance to the Old Chamber, will remark that there was another bust there, and it was the bust of a person who wrote – not some one hundred years after the Declaration of Independence – that all people aren’t equal. We hadn’t lived out the promise that we made. And that this Congress rejected that premise. [We] didn’t forget about it, didn’t sweep it under the rug, make sure that – frankly that [is] what marching in Montgomery and in Selma [is about], and looking at Birmingham’s [Kelly] Ingram Park, visiting the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where four little girls were killed by a hate crime – which by the way, lynching is a hate crime – mob violence taking the life away from somebody because of the color of their skin or some other distinction which is not relevant to the content of their character or their performance. So, I will expect that we will receive a lot of co-sponsors on this legislation over the next month, and I hope the committee will consider this, and we move it forward quickly, and send it over to the United States Senate.”