GOP opposition blocks bill to name federal courthouse after Black judge, a 'legal legend'

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Judge Joseph Hatchett

Judge Joseph Hatchett. Photo from the Florida Supreme Court.

A measure to name a federal courthouse after the first Black judge on the Florida Supreme Court was recently blocked in the U.S. House of Representatives after one lawmaker found a news clip on a prayer ruling.

The U.S. Senate had unanimously passed the bill to name the Tallahassee, Florida, federal courthouse after the late Judge Joseph Hatchett, who became a judge on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Atlanta after serving on the Florida Supreme Court. A ruling by Hatchett while on the 11th Circuit apparently influenced several Republican representatives to vote against the bill March 30, leaving the bill 45 votes short of the two-thirds majority required for passage.

Coverage by the New York Times of the vote described Hatchett as a “legal legend,” while the Tallahassee Democrat deemed him to be “trailblazing.”

The Republican lawmaker who brought up the prayer ruling was U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia. He provided colleagues with a 1999 article from the Associated Press about an 11th Circuit majority opinion by Hatchett that struck down a policy allowing student-approved prayers at graduation ceremonies in Florida.

Clyde, a Baptist church deacon, told the New York Times that he disliked the 11th Circuit decision.

“I don’t agree with that. That’s it. I just let the Republicans know that information on the House floor. I have no idea if they knew that or not,” he said.

Hatchett became an Akerman partner after retiring from the 11th Circuit. The law firm is now calling on the House to reconsider its vote, according to Florida Politics and an Akerman press release.

“Those members of the House, who either knew Judge Hatchett personally or knew of his lifelong commitment to justice and public service, were his strong supporters,” said Scott Meyers, CEO and chairman of Akerman, in a statement. “We strongly urge the rest of the House to follow their lead and recognize the lifetime achievements of Judge Hatchett by naming the federal courthouse in Tallahassee for him.”

Hatchett died in April 2021.

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