WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05) spoke on the House Floor in support of S. 5229, legislation to remove the bust of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney from the U.S. Capitol building and commission a bust of Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall. This legislation passed the House and now moves to the President’s desk. Below is a transcript of his remarks and a link to the video:
"I thank the Gentlelady, and I thank the Ranking Member, Mr. Davis, for his support of this legislation. Mr. Speaker, the Capitol Building is the wellspring of American democracy, freedom, and equality. We don't always live that out as perfectly as we would like, but it is that simple.
“Every time I walk to the Floor, Mr. Speaker, I pass sandstone blocks quarried and hewn centuries ago by enslaved Black Americans. It's a tragic irony that the 'People's House' was built by Americans who were originally excluded from those extraordinary first three words of our Constitution, 'We the People.' While we cannot remove the stones and bricks that were placed here in bondage, we can ensure that the moveable pieces of art we display here celebrate freedom, not slavery, not sedition, not segregation. That's why I sponsored legislation which the House passed earlier this Congress, that would have removed the statues of those who supported slavery and segregation from the Capitol as well as the bust of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney from the Old [Supreme Court] Chamber. That bill was co-sponsored by Mr. Clyburn, the Democratic Whip, by Joyce Beatty, the Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Karen Bass, who was then the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and is about to be the Mayor of Los Angeles.
“Regarding whether 'all men are created equal,' in his disgraceful Dred Scott ruling, Roger Brooke Taney argued this, 'the general words above quoted,' that is, all men are created equal, 'would seem to embrace the whole human family and they were used in a similar instrument at -- and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day,' which was 1858, 'would be so understood.' I want you to think about that for a second. He said that when they acted in 1787, they said that all men were created equal. Today, of course, we would say all people are created equal. But Taney observed in 1858 that those words said some 70 years prior to that would lock them into the bigotry and division. And so he interpreted not in terms of what they would believed in 1858 but what they believed in 1787. And he went on to say, 'but the enslaved African-American race were not intended to be included and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.'
“His narrow-minded originalist philosophy failed to acknowledge America's capacity for moral growth and for progress. Indeed, the genius of our Constitution is that it did have moral growth, it did have expanded vision, it did have greater wisdom. Taney's ruling denied Black Americans citizenship, upheld slavery, and contributed, frankly, to the outbreak of the Civil War. That's why I and so many others advocated for his statue's removal from the Maryland State House. When I was sworn into the Maryland Senate in January of 1967, Roger Brooke Taney's statue stood on the east front of the Capitol of Maryland in Annapolis.
“It has since been removed. Governor Hogan, a Republican, led that effort to remove it. The Maryland legislature, led by Democrats, supported that effort. And the irony is, if you are on the east Capitol front, prior to his removal, you would have gone from Roger Brooke Taney, if you had walked through the Annapolis State House, some 500 feet, come out on the west side, walk down the steps, you would have walked into the Thurgood Marshall Park. What a historic vision of the growth of America, of the change of America, of the opening up and more equal America.
“I advocated for this statue being removed in Maryland, and this bust to be removed from the entrance to the Old [Supreme Court] Chamber. I’m glad that this is passing in a bipartisan fashion. I'm disappointed the Senate isn't ready to remove all of the statues in the original bill and I’m glad that we agree that Taney's bust needs to go immediately. I will continue, ladies and gentlemen, to work with my colleagues in the next Congress to remove the other statues. I look forward to advancing that mission with Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn, Chairwoman Barbara Lee, who I failed to mention, she was the principal sponsor of this bill, and Chairwoman Joyce Beatty. All of them, along with former Representative Bass, they were all Democrats, but there were many, many Republicans supporting this effort because they too stand for equality and justice. They played an important part in developing the prior vision of this bill and its reality.
“Our legislation, as has been observed, would also commission a new bust for Justice Thurgood Marshall, not to be put outside the Old [Supreme Court] Chamber, because the historian rightfully observed he was not a member of the Old [Supreme Court] Chamber. But it will be placed at some appropriate place in the Capitol as the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. As a towering civil rights leader, defending of our founding principles and the first Black Supreme Court Justice, Marshall is a Marylander worthy of a place of honor in these historic halls.
"In removing Taney's bust, I'm not asking that we would hold Taney's to today's moral standards. On the contrary, let us hold him who the standard of his contemporaries, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, as the Gentleman mentioned, and all of those who understood that the enslavement of others has always been an immoral act. Figures like Taney belong in history textbooks and classroom discussions, not in marbled bronze on public display of honor. Yes, we ought to know who Roger Brooke Taney was, a man who was greatly admired in his time in the state of Maryland. But he was wrong. Over three million people visit our Capitol each year. The people we choose to honor in our halls signal to those visitors which principals we cherish as a nation. For Black Americans who faced racial violence and still confront institutional racism today, seeing figures like Taney honored here is a searing reminder that the past is present. It need not be, however, our future.
“Just last year, the January 6 insurrectionists carried Confederate flags through the capitol's corridors, desecrated the poster outside my office honoring my friend, John Lewis, and screamed racial slurs at police officers as they protected lives and defended our Capitol. That was a modern manifestation of the hatred of our past. As our friend, Elijah Cummings, used to say, we are better than this. And it need not be our future. Taney represents that which holds our country back, exclusion, injustice, complainsy and prejudice. Thurgood Marshall conveys that which drives America forward: inclusion, equality, perseverance and justice. Every member of this body, all 435, talk in those terms.
"Such a change would show visitors that America does not shy away from our past, we rise above it to seize a better future. It would show them that only in America could a man use the same court to expand the Constitution's promise of the blessings of liberty. And it would show them that We the People means all the people. Vote yes to celebrate freedom and democracy and justice in this Capitol. Vote yes to declare that the hatred of our past need not and must not define our future. I yield back the balance of my time.”