For what it’s worth, Mike Miller is sorry he stood up for Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney and his complicated past.
In a statement given to The Washington Post yesterday, the Maryland Senate president said, “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. I do regret that sharing my historical perspective has distracted from the larger issue we must face together as a nation and from my role to bring unity and fight for a better Maryland.”
Two weeks ago, Miller penned a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan expressing his frustration at how the governor and the other members of the Maryland State House Trust went about removing a bronze bust of Taney in Annapolis. Days before, Hogan and House Speaker Michael Busch led a successful push to remove the statue from the State House lawn in the fallout of the violent Aug. 12 unrest in Charlottesville, Va.
Miller criticized the administrative process through which Taney’s statue was removed, saying Hogan should have called a public meeting. He also defended Taney’s legacy as an abolitionist and anti-slavery activist earlier on in his life.
Most Americans better know the Supreme Court chief justice as the guy who issued a damaging 1857 ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford that said black people could never be more than property. His decision was undone less than a decade later by the addition of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Miller’s letter drew the ire of his constituents, particularly in his heavily black district in Prince George’s County. State Sen. C. Anthony Muse, a Democratic colleague of Miller’s, called for a formal censure of the senate president, as reported by the Afro. Additionally, the Post reports that about a dozen African-American ministers and activists staged a protest yesterday in Clinton, Md., on a street where Miller owns a law firm and his family owns a liquor store.
His defense of Taney’s statue came during a time when elected officials and university leaders around the country were expediently removing monuments to Confederate heroes. In Baltimore, Mayor Catherine Pugh acted upon calls by activists to take down the city’s four monuments, ordering them to be torn down and relocated in the dead of night.
Even Hogan changed his mind on the issue. In 2015, he called efforts to take down Confederate symbols “political correctness run amok.” But three days after the violent clashes in Charlottesville over a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, he ordered Taney’s statue to be torn down. He said in a statement, “the time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history.”
Miller (full name Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr.), 74, has represented his district since 1975, and has been the senate’s president since 1987, the longest term of any Maryland Senate president. He’s served long enough that state lawmakers even decided to name the senate building after him. He was re-elected in 2014 and has about 16 months left in his current term.
This story’s headline has been updated to clarify why Taney regretted his letter.
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