Supreme Court

Should Congress Take Down Its Statue of Racist Chief Justice Roger Taney?

A bust of the Dred Scott author stands in the old Supreme Court chambers in the capitol.

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Congress is currently weighing a bill that would remove the bust of Roger B. Taney that is on display in the old Supreme Court chambers inside the capitol. Taney, who served as chief justice of the United States from 1836 to 1864, is best known as the author of Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), the notorious case which said that black Americans have "no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

Taney stands out as a uniquely odious figure in American history. One of the big questions in Dred Scott was whether Scott had standing as a U.S. citizen to sue in federal court. Taney's opinion rejected the idea of black citizenship outright.

Blacks "are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution," Taney asserted. At the time of the founding, blacks "had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order." In Taney's view, black Americans were entitled to nothing more than whatever cursory privileges "as those who held the power and the Government might choose to give them."

In addition to being wildly racist, Taney's argument was historically illiterate. As Justice Benjamin Curtis pointed out in his Dred Scott dissent, "at the time of the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, all free native-born inhabitants of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina, though descended from African slaves, were not only citizens of those States, but such of them as had the other necessary qualifications possessed the franchise of electors, on equal terms with other citizens."

What is more, Curtis noted, at the time of the ratification of the Constitution, "in some of the States, as we have seen, colored persons were among those qualified by law to act on this subject. These colored persons were not only included in the body of 'the people of the United States,' by whom the Constitution was ordained and established, but in at least five of the States they had the power to act, and countless did act, by their suffrages, upon the question of its adoption."

In other words, a number of black Americans were quite literally part of "We the People" at the exact moment when those famous words were enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution. Taney's toxic interpretation not only violated constitutional text and history, but it retroactively wrote those patriots out of the constitutional system that they helped to found.

Congress later overturned Taney's villainous judgment when it enacted the legislation that became the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Among other things, the amendment's Birthright Citizenship Clause rendered Dred Scott a dead letter.

Interestingly, one person who does not want to see the Taney statue removed from the capitol is Dred Scott's great-great-granddaughter, Lynne M. Jackson, the president and founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Society. As WUSA9 reports, Jackson would rather see a bust of Scott placed alongside the bust of Taney. The current statue resides in the "place where the Dred Scott case was decided," Jackson told the Associated Press. Having Taney "there by himself is lopsided."

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  1. why erase Taney instead of forever shining light on his idiocy?

    1. I agree…it is always useful to have an example to point to.

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    2. You figure the people who object to removal of the statue would welcome installation of a placque indicating ‘this guy was a reprehensible bigot and a disgusting liar; thank goodness he is dead and his ideas discredited’?

      1. We will carve that on your tombstone

      2. to be fair (lol) whatever preserves the idea is fine by me

    3. Because the proggie totalitarians (see Kirkland, above) can’t bring back slavery and legal government discrimination without rewriting the past first.

    4. Just look at that face. Does that look like the face of a racist to you?

      1. It looks like he’s having a stroke.

        1. Depicted: Roger Taney at 27

    5. Does his bust come with a plaque that describes his idiocy? Will the average visitor who sees the bust know about his idiocy.

      Removing monuments to odious historical figures from places of honor is NOT tantamount to forgetting them.

      1. 1. don’t know
        2. don’t know but right now only 1Ls know
        3. no but the bust helps v. if nothing was in that spot

        and seriously i’m not pro-icon i’m pro-learn-from-mistakes

        1. Here’s the problem, without a plaque like what I mentioned, a bust labeled only with his name does nothing (maybe even less than nothing) to help people remember the bit you want them to remember and learn from.

      2. Funny, there’s these things called “history books” that describe his record in detail. Too bad we don’t teach such things in public schools anymore.

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    7. To learn from history means to face it for good and bad. Lynne Jackson has the right idea. Show them side by side and give a face to the injustice for all to remember.

  2. Ms. Jackson is correct. A chance to educate about history rather than erase it. Very wise indeed.

    1. I’m sorry Ms. Jackson. They are for real, and they will take that statue down regardless of what you think about it, without apologizing once let alone a trillion times. They will get their piece of the American pie and take their bite out. Notice that the day-by-day rulers can’t be too wrong; Ms. Jackson, their intentions are good. They wish they could become a magician to abracadabra all the sadder thoughts. So know this: Know that everything’s cool.

      1. And they will leave Byrd in his honored place.

    2. I agree. I have seen few good ideas about these statues and that is the best one.

  3. Equal justice mandates that the left and the right get to alternate choosing which statues/busts/images to erase from history.

    1. Removing monuments to odious figures from places of honor does exactly nothing to erase them from history.

  4. Should Congress Take Down Its Statue of Racist Chief Justice Roger Taney?

    Sure, why not? Take it down. Take it all down. Every statue, every painting of every agency head – burn it all down.

  5. This is simply…

    …wait for it…

    statue-tory rape.

    1. You should have save that for taking down a statue of a raisin pioneer.

    2. I always suspected you were hiding some strange fetishes, Eddy.

      1. Love is love, that’s the stone-cold truth.

        1. Who am I to get in the way of a man and his favorite statue.

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  7. Congress is currently weighing a bill that would remove the bust of Roger B. Taney that is on display in the old Supreme Court chambers inside the capitol.

    Why would a representative body debate this democratically? Shouldn’t we just send in the Skinny Jean Army to pull it down while shouting “Death to Capitalism!”

    1. Bigots and clingers should have the right to participate in the debate before their preferences are stomped.

      1. “before their preferences are stomped”

        Because you lust for totalitarianism.

      2. You are not stomping anyone there Tiger. Your caregivers really need to work on your violent fantasies. I suppose letting you have them probably makes you easier to handle by giving you an outlet, but long term they can’t be good for your obviously frail mental health and feeble intelligence.

      3. Taney was just supporting core Democratic Party policies.

  8. What’s this? The people who are most against the call to prettify the past with convenient damnatio memoriae is the Scott family itself?

    Well, I am shocked. Just as shocked as the fact that the people who are most loudly opposing the renaming of the Edmund Pettis bridge are the people who actually marched across it–including John Lewis, who argued eloquently against its renaming for himself as long as he breathed.

    But of course neither of these will prevail. Just like we know more about whether an emancipation statue is degrading to former slaves than the actual former slaves who commissioned it; we have advanced so much further in our knowledge of their dignity than the poor unenlightened Uncle Toms. And we can appreciate so much better the proper way to condemn the rebels’ treason than the actual men who tried to kill them for it for four years, and saw their own young friends killed by them before their eyes.

    And, of course, not even the most militant and radical black nationalist revolutionaries in the Civil Rights Era seemed to care very much about statues and building names, and they certainly didn’t seem to do very much complaining about how much such things were hurting their feelings and causing them pain. But, again, thank God we live in more enlightened times, times of more dignity and pride for the black man.

    1. Just like we know more about whether an emancipation statue is degrading to former slaves than the actual former slaves who commissioned it

      Such are the wages of raising an entire generation on “self esteem” and narcissism as one’s chief personal end. They have absolutely no concept of moral authority outside their own.

      If they did, they would understand that the people who actually did suffer as slaves get the final word on whether a statue they built is appropriate to commemorate their suffering. No one who wasn’t a slave themselves has any moral authority to object to how the people who were chose to memorialize their suffering and emancipation. Only the sort of self obsessed, narcissistic twits that the current woke generation are could ever think otherwise.

  9. Considering that pretty much everybody famous in the U.S. was racist up to the middle of the 20th century (and plenty even after that), there’s not going to be many statues and monuments left.

    1. This guy was a real peach though. Dred Scott is the one decision that pretty much every scholar of every judicial philosophy agrees is quite possibly the worst decision ever. It really was that awful. It’s like being the one guy who told Jefferson to take the slavery bit out of the Declaration of Independence, that it actually articulated a more consistent and elegant natural law philosophy without it.

      1. Did he actively murder people?

        1. No, but he claimed that every member of the black race was libel to be enslaved and that no state had the right to ban slavery since it was the natural state of the black race.

          That is not endorsing murder but it is endorsing universal and eternal slavery for an entire race such that voters are not even allowed to object. It may not be murder but it sure as hell isn’t good.

          1. He sounds like a communist. The Left should honor him.

      2. quite possibly the worst decision ever

        Way too much competition there.

        Korematsu
        Buck v Bell
        Kelo
        Wickard v Filburn
        Slaughter House Cases
        Gonzalez v Raich

    2. there’s not going to be many statues and monuments left

      Year Zero, coming soon.

    3. Never fear the liberals will never take down Robert Byrd’s statue in the Capital.

  10. Fun Fact: Taney was the first Catholic Justice. So perhaps beheading the statue or burning it would be a more appropriate solution.

    1. It’s hard to imagine a time before all Justices were required to be Catholic or Jewish.

      1. That made me laugh out loud Zeb. Well played. Bravo.

  11. Who gives a fuck?

    Get a life, Root

  12. For every staue or whatever the woke crowd wants down or destroyed, those opposed get to erase what they dont like. If Riger Taney comes down, so must images of Che Guavera, a man who boasted about imprisoning and killing homosexuals.

    1. Hmmm, haven’t heard much of these Che-shirted assholes wreaking much havoc in the streets of Miami. I wonder why.

      1. Because even though younger Cubans never heard abuelita tell her stories of horror at the hands of the communists, plenty of them DO remember those stories and will curb stomp a motherfucker burning down a Cuban business in the name of Che.

  13. Taney supported Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1824 and 1828, and he became a member of Jackson’s Democratic Party.
    Those awful, racist Republicans.

    1. something something everything went 180 in 1964.

  14. This is a great example of why statues should not be torn down. Tanney is the sorriest part of an often sorry history of the US Supreme Court. If I were the Court, I would want the statue gone because I would not want anyone to know that such a vile man ever served on the Court or wrote an opinion as evil and ultimately damaging to the nation as Dred Scot.

    The court shouldn’t get that desire. The full history of the court, good, bad, and ugly should be memorialized and remembered.

    1. This is why I can’t fully condemn Pelosi for removing the “Confederate” speaker portraits. She was only following the lead of the original damnator, Paul Ryan. He was the first in history to remove a speaker’s portrait from the gallery, namely that of Denny Hastert.

      Every member of the House from here on in, should they ever be tempted to think too highly of themselves and their august institution, should have to stare at the picture of that kiddie diddler in the face, and think, “We made this man our leader.” But no, now they won’t have to. The walls don’t represent history as it happened. They represent history as the House wants to remember it and wants to think of itself. Oh well; at least they were smart enough to whitewash their dishonor in a way they actually got applauded for it. Give them at least that.

      1. I agree. I didn’t know they took Hassert’s picture down. That is complete bullshit. Hassert was the speaker of the house. If you are going to put the pictures of all the speakers up, he is entitled to have his on there. It is not a “speakers hall of fame”. It is a record of the men who held the office. You shouldn’t get to erase shit about the past you don’t like.

        1. When you have the emotional maturity of 6 year olds, you do.

        2. Yeah, this is ridiculous. That photo wasn’t there to tell us what a great guy Hastert was. It was there to tell us who were former speakers.

      2. King, this is a fantastic post.

        They should keep those portraits up, but commission a large brass eagle in the act of dropping a big, salmon turd on their heads.

        Alternatively, commission someone to re-do the background with the face of their victims tearing the soul from their flesh to be taken to a flaming hell-pit.

    2. As much as I dislike John Oliver, he was right when he said “you don’t need a statue of a rat to learn about the plague”.

      To the extent that you need a statue to remember what happened, why not pick an emancipated slave or some other important figure on that side? We don’t put up statues of Hitler to remember our WW2 vets.

      I don’t really care one way or the other about the statue (why have publicly financed statues at all?), but the idea that no one would ever learn about Dred Scot because we took a statue down is pretty absurd.

      1. Because the slave wasn’t a member of the court. Having a statue of anyone but Tanney makes it seem like it was something that just happened instead of something the Court did.

        1. Which is easily accomplished with a plaque that explains the history.

          I don’t see how knowing what Tanney looked like is important to learning the history of his decision. You use someone’s likeness when you want to memorialize the person, and in general you do that because that person was worth looking up to.

          1. I think he should be memorialized. He is as much of a part of SCOTUS history as anyone else and deserves to be remembered.

            1. But, how about we drill out the eyes in his bust and replace them with red LEDs. And when you push a button under the bust, the mouth goes all animatronic, and he explains to the viewer the depth of his shame?

      2. We don’t put up statues of Hitler to remember out WW2 vets.

        But we do have the history channel. And why did you immediately go to Hitler? Why not Stalin or Mao? I might suggest it’s because we don’t have a history channel running documentaries all the time about what terrible people they were, the same reason Antifa can get so much mileage out of demonizing Nazis while they march around carrying hammer-and-sickle flags. Because people learn from history, and erasing that history is a very bad idea. As King of NYC pointed out regarding Paul Ryan taking down Dennis Hastert’s portrait – you smarmy bastards shouldn’t be able to pretend you fucker’s didn’t elect that guy your leader.

      3. That may be correct, but you do need a statue of a “rat” to learn about how some people think he was a rat and others (who themselves are not rats) do not.

        Removing a Confederate, an alleged racist judge, or anyone who did something that is widely regarded as bad is not grounds to dismiss memorializing everything good that they did. Lee, Jackson and Stuart were American war heroes, not just Confederate war heroes. We honor their American legacy, not their Confederate legacy, as reconciliation for our collective failure to address the issue of slavery without coming to blows.

        The logic used to remove such statues demands the removal of all statues. Every human being is a sinner, some more than others. This modern equivalent of damnation memoriae requires us to eliminate Obama, MLK, Mandela, Gandhi, and everyone that we laud today as heroes for racial justice.

        I cannot support the result of refusing to have a culture just because someone disagrees with the narrative, especially when the means of doing so are in and of themselves violent and authoritarian policies that would one day themselves be scrubbed too.

  15. They want to get rid of him because he was a Democrat.

  16. I don’t really care if they take down the statues or not. If it’s through a normal process and not by an angry mob.

    But I do think people need to get over this idea that a statue of someone existing means we somehow endorse everything that person ever did. Pretty much any “great man” from history was some kind of monster or other, or at least held some views that modern people might find abhorrent.
    I tend to just look at them as decorative objects without any moral content.
    Memorials to people killed in war, even if they were on the wrong side, should definitely be left alone.

    1. Agreed. I would add that one case where I think statues should be removed is when the purpose of the statue is to celebrate a person or event that doesn’t justify celebration. So for example, if Taney’s statue is just one of the statues of every former justice, no problem. But if it’s part of an exhibit of the greatest justices, that’s problematic.

  17. The surest way to avoid repeating history is to toss all depictions of it down the memory hole, right?

  18. Leave the statue of Taney up and erect a bigger one of Dred Scott staring him down.

  19. Wiser heads than I have noted the following. We either learn from history or we relive it.

  20. Labelling someone who lived 150 years ago, especially if before the Civil War, a “racist” is an anachronism, an example of retroactive morality: the damning of the past for not anticipating the demands of the living. Remember (a) that both the Missouri Supreme Court and the US District Court both had already ruled against Scott; (b) it took two Constitutional Amendments – 13th and 14th – neither a court decision nor congressional action to void the Taney SCOTUS’ 7 – 2 decision. The 7 – 2 decision shows that Taney, and six other Justices, were in accord with their times.

    In 1875, the SCOTUS of Morrison Waite upheld Missouri’s refusal to let Virginia Minor register to vote. Again, it took an amendment – the 19th, 45 years later – to void this decision. The unanimous decision again showed that morality of the past was not that of today.

    And today’s might not be that of tomorrow.

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  22. The October 20, 1774 Articles of Association completely blockaded the slave trade. But the Constitution (like Lincoln’s Emancipation proclamation) preserved the peculiar institution until a specific deadline. The Dred Scott case cites the Constitution, on which basis it upheld Democrat law and put the matter back in Congress’ lap. Nobody above quotes the decision or disputes that the issue was resolved by the 13th and 14th Reconstruction Amendments.

  23. I would simply like to point out that the vote in Dred Scott was not close, 6-2, almost exactly as the other worst case in Supreme Court history, Roe v Wade. As much fun as it is to disparage Taney, it is worth noting that he voted with the majority, including Justice Story in the Armistad case, where the court ruled that the shipload of kidnapped slaves were not property, but abducted people, and therefore had to be returned to Africa.

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  25. History is history with all it warts, bruises and blemishes.

    I would leave the bust up, but add a lengthy plaque explaining the Dred Scott decision and its ramifications.

    Adding a little bit of education to each bust ion the capitol might give our politicians a pause when voting/ruling understanding that future generations will read about their decisions to diminish our freedoms.

  26. Waiting for the Republicans to get a clue and fight back by demanding Byrd be removed from history too.

  27. How about removing some of the racist sitting judges? Sotomayor, for example.

    1. Latinas can’t be racist. Duh!

  28. It’s interesting that nobody in the news media (including “Reason” writers) have thought to mention that these statues — along with Pelosi’s earlier portrait removals — are images of Democrats. I guess that information’s just too obscure for public exposure.

    Anyway, like Tony tells us, all the racists became Republicans after the Republicans voted en mass for the Civil Rights Act, so history doesn’t matter.

  29. I’d point out that he wrote the opinion but he didn’t decide it by himself. The vote was 7-2. I’m pretty sure the other justices had the ability, even if they agreed with the main holding to write concordances without the other stuff.

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  31. While the legacy of Taney’s ruling was severely harmful to a race of people in this country, his ruling, I would argue, is merely in keeping with a long and ongoing practice of selective jurisprudence simply to enforce ones ideology and prejudices: the constant flip-flopping occurring case-by-case to advance the justices’ personal politics. Taney’s fingerprints can be seen in every SCOTUS rulings and dissents, new and old.

    To be sure, his ideology is, was and will always be repugnant, but I’m swayed by the argument of keeping it in place as a reminder of the fraud perpetuated by SCOTUS every day.

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