SCOTUS Spotlight: Roger B. Taney

Roger B. Taney, born on March 17, 1777, was the 5th Chief Justice of the United States and the first Roman Catholic to serve on the Supreme Court. Taney’s life and legacy have been considered deeply controversial. Taney held many political roles once he was admitted to the bar: he served for one year in the Maryland House of Delegates, he was elected to the Maryland Senate, he served as the US Attorney General, and he served as the Secretary of War. When Andrew Jackson tried to appoint Taney to serve as the Secretary of the Treasury, however, the Senate denied this nomination and Taney became the first cabinet nominee ever to be rejected by the Senate. 

Later, Jackson nominated Taney to the Supreme Court but the Senate rejected him again citing his radical views. However, 10 months later when Chief Justice John Marshall had passed away, Jackson again nominated Taney to serve as Marshall’s successor, and the Senate finally approved. Despite holding many roles in his life,  he is remembered principally for the Dred Scott decision that he delivered during his time as Chief Justice. Taney, himself, delivered the ruling that African Americans were not citizens, and that slavery could not be prohibited by Congress. The decision immediately created controversy and disagreement. So much so that not long after the decision was public, Congress passed the 13th and 14th amendment to the Constitution which, in effect, overturned the ruling of the Dred Scott decision.  

The country, to this day, has not forgotten Taney’s decision and it’s impact on American history. As of 2020, following the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd, the House of Representatives voted 305-113 to remove the bust of Taney from the U.S. Capitol and replace it with a bust of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice.

Two interesting facts: Roger B. Taney married Anne Phoebe Charlton Key, the sister of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner.