Maryland's Democratic Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen introduced legislation that would replace the bust of a controversial Supreme Court justice who wrote the majority opinion in a case concluding black people were not U.S. citizens with the first African-American to serve on the high court.
The bill calls for replacing Roger Brooke Taney, author of the infamous Dred Scott decision, with Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. The 1857 ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford determined that the Constitution did not include black people as citizens and that Congress could not prohibit slavery.
"As our country continues to grapple with the past and future of civil rights and systemic racism, we should highlight leaders in history that have propelled us towards justice and put an end to the glorification of those who stood in its way," Van Hollen said in a statement Wednesday.
Marshall, a Baltimore native, was a successful attorney who argued several cases before the court, including Brown v. Board of Education, before being named to the court in 1967, where he served until 1991.
Cardin called Marshall an "inspiration, a person who propelled his rise from West Baltimore to the highest court in the country through hard work, intellectual evolution and unwavering morality."
Adding statues of people of color and removing Confederate and racist figures from Statuary Hall and other parts of the Capitol has been championed by lawmakers in recent years. But statues of figures like Confederate President Jefferson Davis and military commander Robert E. Lee remain.
Taney's marble bust, completed by noted artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1877, sits in the Old Supreme Court Chamber but was controversial even in its day.
The first proposal to get a bust of Taney in the chamber occurred in February 1865. The bill to include Taney's bust, proposed by Illinois Sen. Lyman Trumbull, a co-author of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, led to a heated Senate debate, according to Senate records.
Charles Sumner, a senator from Massachusetts, panned the proposal, saying, "I object to that; that now an emancipated country should make a bust to the author of the Dred Scott decision."
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, joined by all Democratic members of the Maryland congressional delegation, is introducing companion legislation in the House, a release from the senators said.