U.S. House votes to scuttle statues of Confederate leaders and slavery defenders, including NC’s Vance
By Laura Olson
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Tuesday to remove from the Capitol a bust of the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, a Marylander who wrote the despised Dred Scott decision—as well as evict statues and busts of men who fought for the Confederacy or served in its government.
The legislation passed on a vote of 285-120, with all the nay votes from Republicans and 67 of them voting with Democrats. It would replace the marble bust of Taney, which is displayed outside the old Supreme Court chamber on the first floor of the Capitol, with one of the late Thurgood Marshall, a fellow Marylander who was the first Black member of the Supreme Court.
Eight North Carolina lawmakers voted “yes”: Democrats Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield, Kathy Manning, David Price and Deborah Ross and Republicans Virginia Foxx, Richard Hudson and Greg Murphy. The other five Republicans voted “no”: Dan Bishop, Ted Budd, Madison Cawthorn, Patrick McHenry and David Rouzer.
Taney (pronounced Tawney) wrote the majority opinion in 1857 in Dred Scott, a case initiated in Missouri. The ruling, which provoked intense opposition in the North, said that people of African descent were not citizens and had no right to bring suit in federal court—effectively upholding slavery.
In addition, the House bill directs the Architect of the Capitol to remove other statues and busts of individuals connected with the Confederacy, as well as three men who promoted or defended slavery and/or segregation — Charles B. Aycock, of North Carolina; John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina; and James P. Clarke, of Arkansas.
At least eight other statues and busts would be poised for removal under the measure, based on a preliminary assessment from staffers for Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, (D-Md.), who introduced the bill.
Those statutes include Alexander Hamilton Stephens, a former governor and U.S. representative from Georgia; and Edmund Kirby Smith, a Confederate general from Florida who already is poised to be replaced this year with a statue of civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune.
North Carolina’s statues also include Zebulon Baird Vance, who organized the Confederate Army’s Rough and Ready Guards and served as governor during the Civil War.
A similar bill passed the Democratic-controlled House last year on a bipartisan vote of 305-113, with 72 Republicans joining Democrats in support. But it did not advance in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Democrats now hold a slim majority.
“It is never too late to do the right thing,” Hoyer said during Tuesday’s floor debate, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. “And this, today, is the right thing. It reflects our growth as a state as we have confronted the most difficult parts of our history.”
Each state contributes two statues of people of historical importance to be displayed in the Capitol. Those statues can be replaced by state officials, who select who will be depicted and raise money for the statue’s creation.
The Joint Committee on the Library of Congress can approve or deny state requests to replace their statues, and determines where those statues are displayed in the Capitol.
Under the bill now awaiting a Senate vote, the statues with Confederate ties would be sent back to their respective states.
Confederate monuments, statutes and other commemorative symbols have undergone reconsideration across the South in recent years, particularly following the 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, S.C., in which a white supremacist fatally shot nine Black worshipers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
A report earlier this year from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal advocacy group that has tracked Confederate symbols in public spaces since that 2015 shooting, found 169 Confederate symbols were removed across the United States in 2020. But more than 2,100 Confederate symbols are still publicly present, according to SPLC’s tracking data.
During Tuesday’s debate over the statue-removal bill, most Republicans who spoke said they planned to support the measure, but criticized Democrats for not moving to replace the statues more quickly.
“It’s important the statues we have here reflect the values of this nation,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk, (R-Ga.), adding that he too does not support the ideas espoused by Stephens, commemorated in one of Georgia’s statues and that “to say he was a racist was an understatement.”
However, Loudermilk said the joint congressional committee that signs off on replacing statues has met too infrequently, and has let requests from North Carolina and other states linger.
Back in his home state, Georgia state lawmakers have filed a resolution to replace Stephens’ statue with one commemorating the late civil rights icon, former U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Recorder has reported.
The idea of including Taney at the U.S. Capitol was controversial well before sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens even started carving the piece, according to Maryland Matters.
Just a few months after Taney’s death in 1864, the U.S. Senate considered legislation to commission a marble bust of Taney as Congress had done for previous chief justices. But U.S. Sen. Charles Sumner, an ardent anti-slavery lawmaker from Massachusetts, opposed the proposal, saying his name “is to be hooted down the page of history.”
The rebuke was only temporary, though. Seven years later, when Taney’s successor as chief justice died, Congress ordered commissions for both of the late judges.
Hoyer noted that a statue of Taney has been removed from the grounds of the Maryland state House. Rep. Jamie Raskin, another Maryland Democrat, said the city of Frederick also took down a memorial to Taney several years ago.
Raskin praised the decision to honor Marshall, calling him “a great Marylander who has stood the test of time,” and deeply involved in the legal strategy to dismantle Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation.
The effort is the latest move by congressional Democrats to undo Confederate symbols on Capitol Hill and other federal property.
Last year, Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered the removal of four portraits of previous House speakers who served in the Confederacy. A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee of Virginia also was removed from the U.S. Capitol last year, after having been moved to a less-visible spot within the Capitol during Pelosi’s first stint as speaker.
Congress also voted last year to remove the names of Confederate generals from military bases across the South. A commission is beginning the process of renaming those bases, with a final report due to Congress in October 2022.
Republicans push back against federal approval for changes in state voting laws, deny that discrimination is a problem
By Ariana Figueroa
WASHINGTON—Republicans during a U.S. House Judiciary panel hearing on Tuesday argued that a bill that would reinstate a preclearance section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is unnecessary because there is no discrimination in voting.
The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Mike Johnson, (R-La.), said that the legislation is not needed and that the federal government should not be telling states how to run their electoral processes.
He added that recently voting bills passed by Republicans in Georgia and Florida are meant to “enhance election integrity and increase the public’s waning confidence in our election process.”
“It is outrageous to see the federal government fighting back against these common sense reforms, such as the latest lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice against Georgia over its election law,” Johnson said. The Justice Department announced last week that the agency is suing Georgia in an attempt to overturn the state’s sweeping elections law passed in March.
The comments from the GOP came as Democrats again attempt some type of federal action on elections laws, after a massive legislative package by Democrats known as H.R. 1 was blocked in the U.S. Senate by Republicans. Democrats say the GOP state laws broadly disenfranchise many voters, including those of color, rural residents and people with disabilities.
Rep. Steve Cohen, the Tennessee Democrat who held the House hearing as the chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, contended it is necessary for Congress to pass H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
The measure would put back in place preclearance requirements. Lewis was a member of Congress from Georgia and a leader in the civil rights movement.
“As we approach the first anniversary of John’s passing, Congress must rededicate ourselves to protecting this most fundamental right at a time when it is yet under threat, including in his home state of Georgia,” Cohen said in his opening statement.
The bill, which has not been reintroduced this Congress, would mandate that states and localities with a history of implementing discriminatory voting practices get federal approval before making changes to voting laws.
Those states have included Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas, due to their history of using poll taxes, literacy tests and racial violence to suppress Black and minority voters.
Cohen expressed concern over the introductions of 389 bills with restrictive voting provisions across 48 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Currently, 22 bills have been enacted, with 61 bills in 18 states pending.
Cohen in particular pointed to the voting law enacted in Georgia because it limits the number of ballot boxes for voters, restricts mail-in voting and bans the distribution of food and water by groups to voters waiting in long lines.
Backlash to 2020 seen
One of the witnesses, Helen Butler from Georgia, said the recent voting law is a backlash against the 2020 presidential election, in which President Joe Biden won her state. Democrats also won two U.S. Senate runoff elections earlier this year in Georgia.
Butler is the executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, which is made up of representatives from civil rights, human rights, peace and justice organizations in the Peach State. The People’s Agenda was founded by the late Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a leader in the civil rights movement.
“Instead of welcoming the increasing diversity of Georgia’s electorate and respecting the votes cast by Black voters and other voters of color, Georgia’s conservative legislators’ immediate response was to introduce a host of voter suppression bills in both the Georgia House and Senate during the 2021 legislative session,” Butler said.
She added that the preclearance section is needed to ensure Black and other voters of color have equal access to the ballot box.
That preclearance formula was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2013 case, Shelby County v. Holder.
The Republican argument during Tuesday’s hearing echoed Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion in the case, where he argued that voter suppression is not as prevalent today as it was in the 1960s and 1970s and “there is no longer such disparity.”
After that case, the Supreme Court instructed Congress to draft a new process to determine how the Voting Rights Act would monitor cities, counties and states based on current data, which Democrats are hoping to institute with H.R. 4.
However, H.R. 4 does not undo any voting laws passed in those states with a history of enacting laws to suppress voters of color.
H.R. 1 would undo some laws in Florida, Georgia and Texas, as well as tackle dark money in campaigns and election security.
‘No rampant discrimination’
One of the witnesses, Maureen Riordan, litigation counsel for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, agreed with the GOP arguments.
The foundation, a conservative group based in Indiana, pushes to purge voter rolls and focuses on voter fraud. Its president, J. Christian Adams, was tapped by former President Donald Trump to serve on his Election Integrity Commission in response to Trump’s baseless claim that there were 5 million illegal votes cast in the 2016 presidential election.
“There is no rampant discrimination in voting,” Riordan said.
But the vice chairwoman of the Judiciary panel, Rep. Deborah Ross, (D-N.C.), said that after the Supreme Court struck down the preclearance section of the Voting Rights Act, her own state passed a voting law that disenfranchised Black voters. She said that while the courts overturned the law, it took three years for that litigation to end.
“We need to stop voter suppression before it happens, not years afterwards,” she said. “Disenfranchised Americans cannot wait years for their rights to be restored.”
Rep. Michelle Fischbach, (R-Minn.), asked Riordan what would happen if the Biden administration is successful in its lawsuit against Georgia’s new voting law.
Riordan said that the Justice Department has asked for a preliminary injunction and if that is granted, then it will prevent the new law from going into effect. She added that if the DOJ won the case, then the new law would be quashed.
“It sounds to me like a real invasion of the federal government into state elections,” Fischbach said.
Rep. Cori Bush, (D-Mo.), disputed Republicans’ argument that the federal government should not interfere in state and local elections.
Bush said that Congress should be concerned by the several Republican-controlled states that “have gone out of their way, time and time again, to suppress Black voters.”
“Some of our colleagues can sit here and use coded language about states rights and the federal government, or we can call it what it is,” she said.
“This is a conversation about one party’s intent and their ongoing white supremacist attempts to suppress the power of Black, brown, indigenous and other marginalized voters.”