House to vote on removing Confederate statues from Capitol

Washington — The House will vote Wednesday on whether to require the removal of statues of Confederate officials from the Capitol, a move that comes amid a nationwide reckoning over statues and memorials of Confederate leaders and other racist figures.

The bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, would direct the Architect of the Capitol to “remove all statues of individuals who voluntarily served the Confederate States of America from display in the United States Capitol.” The legislation calls for these statues or busts to be held in storage until arrangements are made to return them to their state of origin.

It also would require the removal of a bust of former Chief Justice Roger Taney, the author of the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision in which the Supreme Court declared that Black people could not be American citizens.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month voiced opposition to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call for the removal of Confederate statues from the Capitol.

“What I do think is clearly a bridge too far is this nonsense that we need to airbrush the Capitol and scrub out everybody from years ago who had any connection to slavery,” McConnell told reporters. 

District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton walks past a statue of Robert E. Lee in the Crypt of the Capitol on June 11, 2020.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Under federal law, each state can provide two statues to be placed in the Capitol Statuary Hall, and 11 of these statues are of Confederate officials. Senator Roy Blunt, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, has said that the decision to remove these statues from the Capitol lies with the states.

The bill being considered in the Democratic-controlled House would revise the statute dictating the types of statues permitted in the Capitol, and directs the Architect of the Capitol to remove the statues without consultation from the states. The states may replace these statues with ones of other historical figures, and the statues removed from Statuary Hall would be handed over to the Smithsonian Institution or returned to their state of origin.

The legislation would also require the removal of the bust of Taney from outside the room where the Supreme Court met from 1810 to 1860, and replace it with a statue of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice.

Taney’s decision in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford declared that Black people “are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.” The decision was overturned by the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments a decade later.

In this March 9, 2020, file photo, a marble bust of Chief Justice Roger Taney is displayed outside the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol in Washington.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

A statue of Taney was removed from the Maryland State House in 2017 after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Taney served as attorney general of Maryland before joining the Supreme Court.

According to the Associated Press, Lynne M. Jackson, Scott’s great-great-granddaughter and the president and founder of The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation, opposes removing Taney’s bust from the Capitol. She has instead called for a bust of Scott to be added next to Taney.

President Trump has also repeatedly expressed his opposition to removing Confederate statues and symbols. In an interview with CBS News earlier this month, Mr. Trump said it was a matter of freedom of speech.

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