The House voted Tuesday to remove statues of Confederates and other historical figures who advocated for slavery from public displays in the U.S. Capitol, as well as replacing a bust of former Chief Justice Roger Taney, who authored the infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857.
The legislation passed by a vote of 285 to 120, with 67 Republicans joining the 218 Democrats present in voting in favor of the bill. Four Florida Republicans — Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Gimenez, and Daniel Webster voted for the removal.
The bill heads to the Senate for consideration, where itwould need 10 Republican senators to join every 50 Democrats to pass.
The House previously passed the measure during nationwide anti-racism protests last year in response to nationwide protests advocating for racial justice that followed the death of George Floyd. The bill passed by a wider margin, with 72 Republicans voting, with all Democrats in favor of the measure. However, the legislation stalled in the Senate, which was then controlled by Republicans.
Despite the measure stalling last year, Democrats nonetheless took some unilateral action to eliminate Confederate homages in the Capitol. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) ordered the removal of four portraits of former House Speakers who served the Confederacy from the U.S. Capitol.
The National Statuary Hall became federal law that originated during the Civil War in 1864. The law allows for each state to send two statues of deceased citizens who have been “illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services,” and whom the state considers “worthy of this national commemoration” to be featured in Statuary Hall, or elsewhere in the Capitol.
The bill passed Tuesday would revise the 1864 statute dictating the types of statues permitted in the Capitol, and direct the Joint Committee on the Library, the office tasked with preserving the Capitol, to remove any statue of a Confederate military or government leader in the National Statuary Hall Collection, It would also prohibit “persons who served as an officer or voluntarily with the Confederate States of America or of the military forces or government of a State while the State was in rebellion against the United States” from being placed in the Statuary Hall.
Statues removed would be returned to their state of origin, and the state would be able to replace the provided statues with ones of other historical figures to place in the Statuary Hall. Other statues and busts of Confederate officials removed and not owned by a state would be held in storage and left up to the Architect of the Capitol to address.
It specifically singles out for removal statues of North Carolina Gov. Charles Brantle Aycock; James Paul Clark, a former senator and governor of Arkansas; and former Vice President John Calhoun, whose statue was provided by South Carolina. The legislation identifies these three as those who played a major role in defending slavery and segregation.
In a lengthy floor speech, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the bill’s lead author, argued, “We ought not to forget history. We must learn from history. But we ought not to honor that which defiled the principles for which we think we stand. Symbols of hate and division have no place in the halls of Congress.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who voted for the bill, used the floor debate to criticize Democrats as hypocrites on race, noting that the Democratic Party represented the South during the Civil War and Jim Crow era.
“All the statues being removed by this bill are of Democrats,” McCarthy said. “Democrats are desperate to pretend their party has progressed from their days of supporting slavery, pushing Jim Crow laws, and supporting the KKK. But today, the Democratic Party has doubled down on what I consider this shameful history by replacing the racism of the past with the racism of the critical race theory.”
The Capitol has 10 Confederate statues, a few of which have already been removed and replaced by states that sent them. Virginia state legislators removed the Confederate general Robert E. Lee statue from the Capitol last year and planned to replace it with one of the civil rights leaders Barbara Johns. Florida is currently working to replace the statue of Edmund Kirby Smith, a Confederate general, with civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune.
Republicans, including former President Trump, have vehemently denounced the changes to replace history. Many argued Tuesday that the legislation unnecessarily undermined states’ authority, especially since some Southern states are already moving to replace the statutes.
“The 1864 law that establishes the National Statuary Collection defers to states the power to determine who they wish to honor with a Capitol statue,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said in a statement explaining his no vote. “Just as it would be wrong for Alabama and other states to dictate to New York and California who they must honor, it is similarly wrong and repulsive for New York, California, or other states to dictate to Alabama who we must honor. Yet, H.R. 3005 seeks to do exactly that by empowering other states to dictate to a single state who that state can, or cannot, honor.”
Brooks also called the legislation a “historical revisionism.”
“Cancel culture, and historical revisionism are precursors to dictatorial government and the destruction of individual liberty and freedom by elitists who claim they know more than regular citizens and, hence, should be empowered to dictate what regular citizens can and cannot think or do,” Brooks said. “I reject cancel culture and historical revisionism. I reject Socialist Democrat intolerance. I support federalism and a state’s right to decide for itself who it should honor.”
“Socialist Democrat states should butt out!” Brooks added.
The bill also calls for the removal of a bust of Taney, which currently sits inside the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol, to be replaced with Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice.
Taney, who authored the Dred Scott decision in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, declared Black people “are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.”
Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) tweeted ahead of the vote that she supports the bill because it calls for the removal of Taney’s bust in support of Marshall.
“In the iniquitous Dred Scott decision, Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney ruled that Black Americans were not U.S. citizens. I just voted to remove a bust of him from the Capitol and replace it with one of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice,” Demings tweeted ahead of the vote.
Nearly 800 Confederate monuments were in the US at the beginning of 2020, which diminished to about 700 by the end of last year. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center data, since February, more than 90 Confederate monuments were taken down or moved from public spaces in 2020.