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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Miller: Scholars and historians will know my position on Taney

The long-time leader of Maryland’s Senate said he is not worried that members of his own party will rebuke him for not voting to remove a statue of the author of the Dred Scott decision and said scholars and historians will understand his position.

Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller. (file)

Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller. (file)

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said during a brief interview that he remains “disappointed’ by a vote that took place by email that resulted in the removal of the statue of Roger Brooke Taney, the only chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from Maryland.

Miller, who believed there was an agreement by the State House Trust to hold a public meeting and vote on the topic, said he had other issues that should have been discussed by the panel that oversees the care and upkeep of the Maryland’s capitol building and its grounds.

“It’s unfortunate,” Miller said. “Well, here’s the thing, there were at least four issues I needed to discuss.”

Included in those were the removal of the Taney statue as well as Liberty Tree sapling that was planted on the grounds, the repair of steps to the State House and landscaping issues.

“It’s supposed to be a trust,” Miller said. “There’s supposed to be discussion about those things. Like the steps on the State House. No one has contacted us to tell us what is happening or anything about that at all. And the State House grounds, look the governor’s mansion looks like the Kew Gardens or something — it’s fabulous. Our State House, (the grounds) is getting better but it needs to be kept up.”

The trust voted Wednesday afternoon by email to remove the Taney statue on the same day that Baltimore City removed, in the early morning hours, four statues honoring the Confederacy.

Three of the four voting members of the State House Trust — Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Maryland Historic Trust representative Charles L. Edson — voted to remove the statue.

Workers remove a monument dedicated to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney from outside the Maryland State House, in Annapolis, Md., early Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. Maryland workers hauled several monuments away, days after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Workers remove a monument dedicated to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney from outside the Maryland State House, in Annapolis, Md., early Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. Maryland workers hauled several monuments away, days after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Miller did not cast a vote. He has in the past said he would not favor removing the statue but also would not block the action — a stance he repeated during the interview.

Traditionally, the panel meets in person rarely. A spokesman for the governor said last week that there were only two instances in the last decade where the trust held an in-person meeting Most votes are conducted by email.

The statue was lifted off its pedestal in front of the State House early Friday morning. Miller sent a two-page letter protesting the move and the lack of a public vote and saying Taney’s legacy was “complex.”

“I wouldn’t stand in the way of removing it,” Miller said. “If (Edson) had said ‘No,’ I wouldn’t have voted no to block it. I wouldn’t have blocked it but at the same time there needs to be some discussion so that people understand the ramifications of what they were doing and who (Taney) was. Ninety-nine percent of the people including yourself don’t know who he is.”

Taney is widely criticized as the author of the Dred Scott decision which found that slaves were property and had no rights under United States laws.

But Miller said there was more to Taney that that decision, citing the lawyer’s service in the Maryland General Assembly and as both the attorney general for Maryland and the United States.

“I wanted to explain who this man was,” Miller said. “I’m a lawyer. Lawyers know who (Taney) was. He was ranked as one of the best justices in terms of making the Supreme Court what it is today. The reason I know is I am an historian and I represent Calvert County where the guy is from. He served in the House of Delegates. He served in the Maryland Senate. He had Brian Frosh’s job as attorney general. He wrote the nullification opinion for Andrew Jackson that kept South Carolina in the Union that Abraham Lincoln used in 1861.”

Miller said the State House Trust had an obligation to discuss the matter in public and consider the full history of Taney.

“It’s a question as old as time,” Miller said. “What do elected officials do because of the knowledge that they have that other people don’t? Do they say what they know?”

Miller said Taney “made a terrible mistake” in the Dred Scott decision but that it shouldn’t damn the entirety of the jurist’s legacy.

“Let he who has not committed a sin, let him be the first to cast a stone,” Miller said.

And while the removal of the statue is widely supported by members of Miller’s own party, the longest serving state senate president in the country said he does not fear a backlash from fellow Democrats.

“No, no, no, no, no, not at all,” Miller said. “Scholars are going to know my position. Historians are going to know my position. In my heart of hearts I know my position and at the same time I do not question the motives of Mike Busch or Larry Hogan.”

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