Maryland

Hoyer Floor Remarks on Legislation to Remove Symbols of Hate from the Halls of the Capitol

WASHINGTON, DC – This afternoon, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) addressed the House of Representatives in support of S. 5229, a bill to remove the bust of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney from the US Capitol and mandate it a bust of Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall. This bill passed the House of Representatives and is now going to the President’s desk. Below is a transcript of his remarks and a link to the video:

Click here for a link to the video.

“I thank the Gentlelady, and I thank the most senior Member, Mr. Davis, for his support of this legislation. Mr. Speaker, the Capitol Building is the source of American democracy, liberty and equality. We don’t always live it out as perfectly as we’d like, but it’s that simple.

“Every time I go to the floor, Mr. Speaker, I walk past blocks of sandstone that were quarried and hewn by enslaved black Americans centuries ago. It is a tragic irony that the “House of the People” was built by Americans originally excluded from that extraordinary first three words of our Constitution, “We the People.” While we cannot remove the stones and bricks that were placed in bondage here, we can ensure that the movable artworks we display here celebrate freedom, not slavery, not riots, not segregation. That is why I sponsored legislation passed by the House of Representatives before 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. This bill was co-sponsored by Mr. Clyburn, the Democratic Whip, by Joyce Beatty, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Karen Bass, who was then chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and is about to become mayor of Los Angeles.

“Regarding the question of whether ‘all men are created equal,’ Roger Brooke Taney, in his shameful Dred Scott judgment, argued that ‘the general words quoted above’, meaning all men are created equal, ‘apparently the entire human family and they were used in a similar instrument at – and if they were used in a similar instrument that day, that was 1858, “it would be so understood.” I want you to think about this for a second. He said when they acted in 1787 they said that all men were created equal. Today, of course, we would say that all human beings are created equal. But Taney remarked in 1858 that these words, said some 70 years earlier, would lock her into bigotry and division. And so he interpreted not what they believed in 1858, but what they believed in 1787 formulated and accepted this declaration.’

“His narrow-minded, originalistic philosophy failed to recognize America’s capacity for moral growth and progress. In fact, the genius of our Constitution is that it had moral growth, it had expanded vision, it had greater wisdom. Taney’s ruling denied black Americans citizenship, upheld slavery, and frankly contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War. That’s why I and so many others have advocated the removal of his statue from the Maryland State House. When I was sworn into the Maryland Senate in January 1967, the statue of Roger Brooke Taney stood on the east front of the Maryland Capitol in Annapolis.

“It has since been removed. Governor Hogan, a Republican, led this effort to eliminate it. The Democratic-led Maryland Legislature supported this effort. And the irony is, if you were on the east front of the Capitol before its removal, you would have walked by Roger Brooke Taney, walking through the Annapolis State House, about 500 feet, coming out on the west side, walking up the steps went down, you would have walked into Thurgood Marshall Park. What a historic vision of America growing, America changing, opening up and a more equal America.

“I campaigned to have this statue in Maryland and this bust removed from the entrance to the Old [Supreme Court] Chamber. I’m glad this is happening bipartisanally. I’m disappointed that the Senate isn’t willing to remove all of the statues from the original bill, and I’m glad we agreed that Taney’s bust must go immediately. I will continue to work, ladies and gentlemen, with my colleagues at the next convention to remove the other statues. I look forward to advancing this mission with Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn, Chairperson Barbara Lee, whom I failed to mention, she was the primary sponsor of this bill, and Chairperson Joyce Beatty. All of them, along with former Rep. Bass, were all Democrats, but there were many, many Republicans who supported this effort because they, too, stand for equality and justice. They played an important role in developing the previous vision of this bill and its reality.

“Our legislature, as mentioned, would also commission a new bust for Judge Thurgood Marshall, which should not be placed outside the old one [Supreme Court] Chamber because the historian correctly stated that he was not a member of the Ancients [Supreme Court] Chamber. But it will be placed in an appropriate place in the Capitol as the first African American to sit on the United States Supreme Court. As the pre-eminent civil rights leader who defends our founding principles and as the first Black Supreme Court Justice, Marshall is a Marylander who deserves a place of honor in these historic halls.

“By removing Taney’s bust, I am not asking that we Taneys adhere to today’s moral standards. On the contrary, let’s keep him who keeps the standard of his contemporaries, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, as the gentleman mentioned. and all who have understood that enslaving others has always been an immoral act. Figures like Taney belong in history books and classroom discussions, not marbled bronze for public homage. Yes, we should know who Roger Brooke Taney was, a man much admired in the state of Maryland in his day. But he was wrong. Over three million people visit our Capitol each year. The people we honor in our halls signal to those visitors what principles we hold dear. For black Americans who have faced racial violence and who continue to face institutional racism today, is the sight of figures like Taney being honored here , a burning reminder that the past is present but need not be our future.

“Just last year, the January 6 insurgents carried Confederate flags through the corridors of the Capitol, desecrated the poster outside my office honoring my friend John Lewis, and used racial slurs at police officers as they protected lives and defended our Capitol. This was a modern manifestation of the hatred of our past. As our friend Elijah Cummings used to say, we’re better than that. And it doesn’t have to be our future. Taney represents what is holding our country back, exclusion, injustice, lawsuits and prejudice. Thurgood Marshall conveys what drives America forward: inclusion, equality, endurance and justice. Every member of that panel, all 435, speaks in those terms.

“Such a change would show visitors that America does not shrink from our past, we rise above it to grasp a brighter future. It would show them that only in America could a man use the same court to extend the Constitution’s blessing promise of liberty. And it would show them that We the People mean all people. Vote yes to celebrate freedom, democracy and justice in this Capitol. Vote yes to declare that hatred of our past need not and must not determine our future. I give back the rest of my time.”

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