WASHINGTON — The House approved legislation Wednesday to rid the U.S. Capitol of statues of Confederates and a bust of Roger B. Taney, the chief justice who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision that said Black people couldn’t be citizens.
The bill overwhelmingly passed on a vote of 305-113.
The legislation would direct the architect of the Capitol to remove the bust of Taney, which sits outside the Old Supreme Court Chamber at the Capitol, and replace it with one of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice on the high court.
The bill would remove statues and busts of members of the Confederate armed forces. States would be required to reclaim and replace the figures in Statuary Hall of those who volunteered to serve in the Confederate army.
In addition, the measure would specifically remove the statues of John C. Calhoun, Charles B. Aycock and James Paul Clarke from public display “because of those individuals’ role in defending slavery, segregation, and white supremacy,” according to a description of the bill.
“It's time to sweep away the last vestiges of Jim Crow and the dehumanizing of individuals because of the color of their skin that intruded for too long on the sacred spaces of our democracy,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said at an event highlighting the legislation hours ahead of the vote.
Several Democratic co-sponsors said the bill is a way to honor the legacy of civil rights activist and their late colleague John Lewis, D-Ga., who died Friday at age 80 from pancreatic cancer.
“What he fought for every day is the exact opposite of these symbols,” said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“The people's house, as I call the Capitol, can never really be for the people with reminders of a painful history,” Bass said. “Just imagine what it feels like as an African American to know that my ancestors built the Capitol, but yet there are monuments to the very people that enslaved my ancestors.”
The bill easily cleared the Democratic-controlled House, but it’s unclear whether Republicans will take it up in the Senate. Even if Congress passes the measure, President Donald Trump would have to sign it, and the president has repeatedly defended Confederate memorials.
Democrats have tried for years to get the memorials to Confederate leaders removed from the Capitol, and their efforts have intensified as the country has wrestled with police brutality and racial intolerance in the weeks since the deaths of George Floyd and others.