ANNAPOLIS — Legislation moving through Annapolis could put a statue of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, a Maryland native known for writing the pro-slavery Dred Scott opinion, in jeopardy.
Monuments from the Civil War with ties to slavery and the Confederacy have been an increasingly controversial matter throughout Maryland in the past year.
Over 20 Democratic delegates are co-sponsoring a House bill that, if passed, would remove and destroy the statue. The bill is set to be introduced to the Maryland House Health and Government Operations committee on Wednesday and has a companion bill in the state Senate, set for a hearing March 4.
One of the House bill’s sponsors, Delegate Benjamin Brooks, D-Baltimore County, said that growing up in South Carolina and being subjected to racial prejudices gave him a unique perspective on this issue.
“I think any symbol of racial hatred and oppression should not be something the state is endorsing,” Brooks said. “Anything and everything I can do to remove them from society, I’ll do it.”
Taney was the fifth chief justice in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court and is remembered most for his decision regarding the Dred Scott case in 1857. Scott was an enslaved African American who said that he and his wife should be granted freedom because they were taken as slaves, by a white owner, to live in Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory for four years. But both those states considered slavery illegal.
According to the case’s decision on the Cornell University Law School website, Taney said in the opinion, “Neither Dred Scott himself nor any of his family were made free by being carried into this territory, even if they had been carried there by the owner with the intention of becoming a permanent resident.”
Taney grew up in Calvert County and practiced law for over 20 years in Frederick County before becoming a part of the Supreme Court in 1836, according to the Historical Society of Frederick County’s website.
Delegate Kathy Afzali, D-Frederick, disagreed with the bill and said there were more important things that the legislature could be doing this session. She also said that there were a lot of historical figures who had prejudices, but who were also in tune with their time.
“I honestly think we have parts of our history that are good and then parts that are embarrassing, but he was still a part of our history,” Afzali said.
Afzali said that instead of removing the statue, there should be a plaque added to the monument detailing Taney’s decision in the Dred Scott case.
However, Brooks said he would consider amending the bill to move rather than destroy the statue.
“Let’s put it in a library or something. Memorialize it that way,” Brooks said.