Penn Law to remove name of controversial Supreme Court justice from building

3 minute read

A university logo adorns a wall on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

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  • Roger Brooke Taney's name will be chiseled off a limestone medallion on the exterior of the school's main building
  • He's the latest historical figure to be reexamined by legal educators

(Reuters) - The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School has said it will remove the name of a former U.S. Supreme Court chief justice who wrote a 1857 majority opinion upholding slavery from the exterior of a campus building.

It's the latest in a series of moves by legal educators to rethink the historical figures they honor.

The school said it will chisel off justice Roger Brooke Taney's name from a limestone medallion, following a task force review and approval from university leaders.

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Penn Law's Silverman Hall, which opened in 1900, is adorned on all four sides by the medallions that bear the names of influential legal figures.

The decision to remove Taney's name was approved by former university president Amy Gutmann in February, but was not made public until last week.

Law dean Theodore Ruger in July 2020 pledged to examine the medallion and other names on the law school campus as part of a series of anti-racist initiatives the school unveiled following the murder of George Floyd and nationwide protests over racism.

Taney’s opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford, issued four years before the Civil War, said Congress could not prohibit slavery in the United States and its territories.

The task force researched Taney and his inclusion on the building, and gathered public input before recommending removing his name, according to a report in the campus publication Penn Today.

Only two people, both students, told the task force they opposed the change, with one noting that Taney was the first Roman Catholic justice on the nation’s high court, Penn Today reported.

The Penn Law task force recommended waiting a decade before deciding what name should replace Taney’s on the medallion.

Ruger was not immediately available to comment Tuesday.

Taney isn’t the first Supreme Court justice to be reexamined by legal educators.

The University of Illinois Chicago School of Law in May 2021 dropped former chief justice John Marshall from its name after nearly a year of discussion among students and alumni.

Marshall owned and sold a large number of slaves. Taney succeeded Marshall as chief justice, and Marshall’s name appears in the medallion next to Taney’s on Silverman Hall.

Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Ohio, is weighing a similar move.

The University of California, Berkeley School of Law in 2020 removed the name of John Henry Boalt from its main building. Boalt was a leading proponent of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

The University of California Hastings College of the Law is also choosing a new name following revelations that founder and namesake Serranus Hastings orchestrated killings of Native Americans on Northern California land he owned.

Read more:

Another law school mulls name change over slaveholding Supreme Court justice

UC Hastings Law, with namesake tied to killings, will pick new name by July

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com