Senate Passes Bill to Name Tallahassee Courthouse After Joseph Hatchett

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed without opposition a proposal to name the U.S. Courthouse of Northern Florida in downtown Tallahassee after Florida’s first Black Supreme Court Justice, Joseph Hatchett who passed away at the end of April.

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, D-Fla., introduced the proposal at the end of July with almost every member of the Florida delegation in the U.S. House backing the bill. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the bill in the U.S. Senate at the start of October with U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., as a co-sponsor.

“Judge Hatchett was a social justice pioneer and public servant who devoted his career to advocating for civil rights,” Lawson said when he introduced the bill. “Dedicating this courthouse to Judge Hatchett would honor his influence and dedication to the enrichment of Florida, and communities of color across our nation. His legacy, especially as the state’s ‘Voice of Justice,’ is long-lasting, and this legislation is a fitting way to memorialize his contributions. I am certain Judge Hatchett’s achievements will continue to inspire the people of Florida for generations to come.”

Lawson’s office offered some biographical details on Hatchett.

“In his lifetime, Judge Hatchett was dedicated to his home state of Florida. After enduring segregated school systems and discrimination from Jim Crow regulations, he had a long career of prestigious judgeships, military service and civil rights advocacy. A graduate of Florida A&M University and Howard University School of Law, Judge Hatchett worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where he fought for the equality of women and people of color. He went on to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, and the U.S. Magistrate of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida,” Lawson’s office noted.

“In 1975, then-Governor Reubin Askew appointed Judge Hatchett to the Florida Supreme Court, making him the first African American Florida Supreme Court Justice. He also was the first African American to win a statewide Florida election for his seat on the Florida Supreme Court. After his tenure, former President Jimmy Carter appointed Judge Hatchett to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and afterwards, the Eleventh Circuit. He was the first African American to serve on the U.S. Federal Appeals Court in the Deep South,” the congressman’s office added.

The Senate passed Rubio’s bill last week by unanimous consent.

“Judge Hatchett lived an inspiring life of service, first as a member of the United States Army and later as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice for the State of Florida,” Rubio said. “His story is worthy of commemoration, and I am pleased to see the Senate pass my legislation to do exactly that.”

“I want to thank my colleagues for unanimously passing my bill with Senator Rubio to honor the life and legacy of Judge Joseph Woodrow Hatchett by affixing his name to the federal courthouse in Tallahassee,” Scott said. “As the first African-American to sit on Florida’s Supreme Court, Judge Hatchett broke barriers that have inspired countless others in the legal profession and we are grateful for his numerous contributions and dedicated service to Florida and our nation.”

Kevin Derby
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