A bronze bust of the Supreme Court chief justice who wrote the inflammatory 1857 Dred Scott decision affirming slavery will likely be removed from the Frederick, Maryland, City Hall after a majority of aldermen said they support moving it to a museum or other appropriate venue.
During a meeting Wednesday, three of the five aldermen expressed support for moving the sculpture of Roger Brooke Taney, who practiced law in Frederick and is buried in the city. A formal vote is probably months away, said Democrat Donna Kuzemchak, who introduced the resolution last week.
"We need to listen to everybody and do what's best," she said in a telephone interview Thursday.
The Supreme Court's fifth chief justice is best known for having written the 7-2 majority decision holding that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in new territories. Taney based the ruling on his assertion that when the Constitution was framed, blacks were "regarded as beings of an inferior order" with "no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
The ruling stoked tensions between North and South leading up to the Civil War.
Critics see the outdoor statue as an offensive reminder of racist attitudes, much as many now see the Confederate battle flag.
"I don't' believe that it has a place here," said Hayden Duke, president of the Frederick County NAACP.
But Michael Powell, a history professor at Frederick Community College, told the aldermen that moving the statue would effectively delete Taney from city history. He said Taney should be viewed in the context of other rulings he favored, including the 1841 Amistad decision recognizing the freedom of 42 enslaved Africans who staged a shipboard revolt.
Taney also was instrumental in moving the nation toward a market economy, Powell said.
Resident Lois Noffsinger Spurrier, who also spoke at the Wednesday meeting, said Taney was a prestigious "judicial purist" who interpreted the law as it was written. Spurrier didn't object to moving the statue but pleaded, "don't hide him in a closet. Don't melt him down. Put him in a place of prominence."
The sculpture was erected in 1931, when the red brick building was a courthouse in the city of 67,000 about 50 miles west of Baltimore.
Taney sculptures also decorate the Maryland State House and the U.S. Supreme Court Chamber.
Democratic aldermen Michael O'Connor and Josh Bokee expressed support Wednesday for moving the statue. Democrat Kelly Russell and Republican Phil Dacey haven't weighed in.
Republican Mayor Randy Clement said he'll consult the city's lawyers on the next steps.