The House Tuesday passed legislation to remove from the Capitol the bust of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, who authored an infamous pro-slavery decision, as well as to banish other Confederate statues.
The bill got bipartisan support with a 285 to 120 vote following speeches on the House floor on how white supremacists should not be glorified in the halls of Congress.
The House last July approved a similar measure to remove the statues of Gen. Robert E. Lee and other Confederate leaders in a 305-113 vote, but the legislation didn't go anywhere in the GOP-controlled Senate and White House.
Backers are hoping this year the statue removal will gain more traction with Democrats in charge of the Senate and with President Biden in office.
"The people's house can never truly be for the people if it is lined with tributes to those who fought to continue the enslavement of Black people in this country," said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., one of the sponsors of the statue removal legislation. "My ancestors built this building. Imagine how they would feel knowing that more than 100 years after slavery was abolished in this country, we still pay homage to the very people that betrayed this country in order to keep my ancestors enslaved."
The legislation would remove the bust of Taney, which is on display in the Capitol in the Old Supreme Court Chamber, and replace it with a bust of Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, who in 1967 became the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. Taney, a Maryland native and justice from 1836 to 1864, wrote the Dred Scott decision that found Black people were not American citizens.
The legislation would also remove from public viewing statues of Confederate leaders and return them to the states that provided them. Each state gets to honor two icons at the Capitol in Statuary Hall and it's up to state officials to decide who will be on display.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., condemned the Confederate statue removal effort as an infringement on states' rights and blasted "cancel culture" and Democrats' "intolerance." Brooks defended his home state of Alabama's statute of Joseph Wheeler at the Capitol. He pointed out that Wheeler was the only Confederate general to later become a United States general and earned burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
"We have a lot of people serving in the Capitol right now, who in my judgment, are highly racist against Caucasians," Brooks told Fox News of some of his Democratic colleagues who push critical race theory. "But that does not warrant their expulsion."
In all, 67 Republicans, however, signed onto the legislation Tuesday, although they took a few jabs at Democrats' checkered history in the meantime.
"Let me state a simple fact: all the statues that are being removed by this bill are statues of Democrats," GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in announcing his support for the bill. Democrats were quick to point out that both parties have changed dramatically since the Civil War era.
The vote comes after a long year of racial reckoning in the wake of George Floyd's death, nationwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and the destruction of Confederate relics in numerous cities.
Bass, an African American lawmaker who is spearheading police reform legislation, talked about how she has to pass by tributes to Confederate leaders at her place of work. "Imagine how I feel, and other African Americans and people of color feel, walking through Statuary Hall," Bass said.
And Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, said it's long past time to do the "right thing" and remove a bust of a Supreme Court justice who wanted to keep Black people enslaved.
"If Judge Taney and his cohorts had their way, there would be no person of color in this building today," Green said at the Capitol.