WASHINGTON — Congress on Wednesday gave final approval to legislation to remove from the Capitol a statue of Roger Brooke Taney, the Supreme Court justice who wrote the racist Dred Scott decision, and replace it with a bust of Thurgood Marshall, a civil rights icon and the first Black man to serve as a justice on the nation’s highest court.
The legislation, sponsored by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, passed the House by a voice vote after it passed the Senate last week without a recorded vote, a procedure used for bills to which nobody objects. It now advances to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
It was a significant victory for lawmakers who have tried for years to remove Confederate statues and other symbols of racism from the Capitol, and an example of how quickly legislation can move through Congress in a bipartisan manner during a so-called lame-duck session after the year’s political campaigns have ended.
The legislation requires the removal of Justice Taney’s bust from the Old Supreme Court Chamber, a room on the Senate side of the Capitol, no later than 45 days after enactment. Capitol officials then have up to two years to obtain a bust of Justice Marshall as a replacement.
In an interview, Mr. Cardin said negotiations to remove the bust of Justice Taney had been in the works for months. He credited Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, with carrying the bill through that chamber.
A New U.S. Congress Takes Shape
Following the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats maintained control of the Senate while Republicans flipped the House.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time, but the finish was pretty quick, and that was by design,” Mr. Cardin said.
Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and the chairwoman of the Administration Committee, spoke in favor of the legislation on the House floor.
“Let’s take this opportunity to rid our Capitol of the bust of the man who does not deserve the honor and add one of a man who unquestionably does,” she said, adding, “This is about who we chose to honor, who we chose to literally put on a pedestal.”
Representative Rodney Davis, Republican of Illinois, said the members of his party had no objection.
“I support removing the bust of Taney and believe statues like his only divide us as a nation,” Mr. Davis said.
Maryland state officials took a similar action in 2017 when they removed statue of Justice Taney from a post in front of the State House after Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, called for its removal.
Both justices are native Marylanders.
Justice Marshall, born in Baltimore, led the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, fighting against segregation, before joining the court. He argued the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which held segregated schools to be unconstitutional.
Born in Calvert County, Md., Justice Taney rose to become the fifth chief justice of the Supreme Court, where he wrote the opinion that Black people could not be considered U.S. citizens.
“While the removal of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s bust from the Capitol does not relieve the Congress of the historical wrongs it committed to protect the institution of slavery,” the legislation states, “it expresses Congress’s recognition of one of the most notorious wrongs to have ever taken place in one of its rooms, that of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s Dred Scott v. Sandford decision.”
Mr. Cardin said the architect of the Capitol would ultimately decide which statue of Justice Marshall would be selected and where at the Capitol it would reside.
Lawmakers have taken action in recent years to remove Confederate statues and other symbols of racism from the Capitol.
Virginia’s statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee was removed from its post in the Capitol in 2020, closing a year that saw Confederate statues toppled as the nation reckoned with racism in its history and institutions. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has called to remove other statues, markers and monuments to the Confederacy from the Capitol.
But efforts for a wider removal of statues have failed.
The strategy this year was to focus on removing Justice Taney’s bust first before moving on to other statues in the future, Mr. Cardin said.
“I would like to see all the Confederate states removed,” he said. “There’s more work to be done.”