Senate president Miller’s statue remarks cause ire
Colleague seeks vote to censure
A Prince George’s County state senator has introduced a legislative request for a vote to censure the remarks of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s).
Earlier in the month, Miller noted Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney’s accomplishments during a debate on whether the controversial figure’s statue should have been moved from the grounds of the State House in Annapolis.
In the Dred Scott v. Sanford Supreme Court decision of 1857, Taney authored the contentious opinion that no person of African ancestry was entitled to U.S. citizenship.
“The president of the Senate in reality or perception speaks for the entire Senate and, when he uses his Senate stationary, puts remarks that on
there defending a person who [is] repugnant in the African-American community — Roger Taney was very much a person who said black lives do not matter,” stressed Sen. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) in an interview with Southern Maryland Newspapers, referring to a letter authored by Miller on Aug. 17.
In his statement, Miller referred to Taney’s Dred Scott opinion as “inflammatory” and “derogatory” and said it created a “lasting wound in the country” as well as incited the Civil War, but conversely, Miller championed keeping
the chief justice’s statue, noting that Taney once freed his slaves, became involved in a group of reformers who protected free blacks from kidnapping, tried to alleviate the harshness of slavery and represented abolitionists in court.
Muse said the move to censure is not about the Senate president’s position on the statue or whether it belongs at the State House or in a museum, but more so that it was “very insensitive and very hurtful” for Miller to defend Taney in the aftermath of recent violence brought about by hate groups in Charlottesville, Va., and nationwide tension on race and ethnicity.
“It was defending a character who brought
so much hurt through his decision and his basic feelings towards African-Americans,” Muse explained. “With the climate being what it is, this was not the time or the place.”
“He said we were not human beings. We were property,” said Muse, referring to Taney and noting that the decision allowed Klu Klux Klan members to kill blacks because they had no standing in courts. Ultimately, blacks were killed by the thousands. Muse also said Taney’s opinion led to the Civil War.
“No person of conscience can do anything other than condemn these acts and fight like hell to oppose the KKK and white supremacy movement. Just as I condemn those events
in no uncertain terms, I have also condemned the statements of Chief Justice Taney in the wrongheaded Dred Scott holding, and the decision itself which led to a Civil War,” shared Miller in a written statement to Southern Maryland Newspapers, on the possible censure.
Muse also inferred Miller’s remarks hurt the Democratic Party.
“How do you agree with President Trump and say Democrats are different in their attitudes towards African-Americans?” questioned Muse.
“As a student of history, I intended to respectfully state my preference for education about our flawed history and the greater historical context of Justice Taney,” said Miller, referring to keeping the statue on the grounds, co-located near a statue of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a black man from Baltimore.
“I do regret that sharing my historical perspective has distracted from the larger issues we must face together as a nation and from my role to bring unity and fight for a better Mary-
land,” Miller added.
In the Maryland General Assembly, the process for censure is that the Senate introduces and votes on a simple resolution to officially censure the lawmaker in question. Since this is a matter internal to the Senate, it will not be passed along to the House.
There are no official restrictions placed on a member who is censured, but a censure is not favorable for a member’s political career.
If Miller were to be censured, it would be the first time a member was censured for personal remarks. Typically, disorderly, disrespectful or unethical behavior are the grounds for censure.
In 2012, Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s) was censured for ethical violations, for failure to disclose outside work and using his position for profit. Fourteen years prior, former senator from Baltimore Larry Young (D) was censured and ultimately expelled from the Senate in 1998 on ethics charges to also include using his position for profit. Both Currie and Young were acquitted of criminal wrongdoing.
Muse said this censure is not a punitive action, but an opportunity for each senator to have their opinion noted.
“We want to take a vote in the Senate on the remarks of the president of the Senate to send a message that the Senate does not agree with his remarks; that is all this resolution does,” said Muse, explaining that the official reprimand does not involve his behavior or charges. “It allows each individual senator to say ‘I agree or I disagree’ with those statements that are now a part of history on the president of the Senate’s letterhead.”
Legislative requests for the next session are being worked on now and will not be made public on the Maryland General Assembly legislative site until December. Once a bill, the resolution will move forward to a committee for hearings during the 2018 legislative session before a possible vote.
Muse said the Legislative Black Caucus has called an emergency meeting for two weeks from now to take an official position on Miller’s statements.