Democrats in the Legislature say it's time for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun to join the ranks of notable Minnesotans whose images line the halls of the State Capitol.
Controversy has long kept the state from displaying a bust of Blackmun, who grew up in St. Paul and went on to author the Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.
On Thursday, just days after the 40th anniversary of the decision, state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, introduced legislation directing the state historical society to commission a bust of Blackmun. The bust would sit in an alcove outside the state Supreme Court chambers, facing the bust of his childhood friend, former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger.
The pair were known in their day as "the Minnesota Twins." Appointed by Richard Nixon, they shared similar backgrounds and voting records, including the Roe decision.
"Harry Blackmun was a very, very significant figure in the life of our country and the life of our state," Dibble said, and in a building crowded with tributes to historic figures,Blackmun's "absence is noticible."
The proposal brought swift criticism from abortion opponents, thousands of whom had rallied at the Capitol to mark the Roe v. Wade anniversary.
"Placing a statue of the individual who wrote the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized the killing of more than half a million unborn children in Minnesota is extremist and divisive," Scott Fischbach, executive director of MInnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, said in a statement. "The newly elected leadership in the Legislature has stated that they want to focus on jobs and education for the people of our state — not placing statues of extremists that divide Minnesotans in Capitol alcoves."
The battle over Blackmun's bust wracked the Legislature in 2000. One MCCL lobbyist at the time described Blackmun, who had died the previous year at age 90, as "worse than Hitler."
In the end, lawmakers rejected the bust by a vote of 69-58, even though the $25,000 cost of the monument had been raised from private sources.
In response, the St. Paul City Council passed a unanimous resolution saying that if the Legislature didn't want Blackmun's bust, the city would be happy to display it at City Hall.
Dibble said he hoped his proposal would bring mimal controversy.
"My goal is to honor a leading figure who's made a real mark on our state," he said. "I think the public is sick and tired of extremist social politics...Let's just grow up."