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First African American Florida Supreme Court justice dies at 88

First African American Florida Supreme Court justice dies at 88
Posted at 11:48 AM, May 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-01 11:53:40-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Joseph W. Hatchett died in Tallahassee on Friday, according to the Florida Supreme Court. Hatchett was 88 and was Florida's 65th Justice since statehood was granted in 1845.

Hatchett became the first African American to serve on Florida’s highest court when he was appointed by Governor Reubin Askew in 1975. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter named him to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, becoming the first African American to serve in a federal circuit that covered the Deep South at the time.

Born during the days of segregation, Hatchett grew up in Pinellas County and attended Pinellas High School. He took the Florida Bar Exam in 1959 at a time when black examinees could not stay in the hotel where the test was administered because of Jim Crow regulations still in effect.

After graduation from Florida A&M University in 1954, Joseph Hatchett was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. He entered Howard University School of Law in 1956 and earned his LL.B. degree in 1959.

After admission to the Florida Bar in November 1959, Hatchett entered private practice in Daytona Beach, practicing criminal, civil, administrative, and civil rights law in state and federal courts.

In 1966, Hatchett was appointed assistant United States attorney for the Middle District of Florida, and, in 1967, he was designated first assistant United States attorney. In 1971, he was appointed United States magistrate for the Middle District of Florida.

In 1976, in defending his seat on the Florida Supreme Court, Hatchett became the only African American to win a Florida statewide contested election during the twentieth century. It was the last contested election for the Florida Supreme Court before constitutional reforms moved state appeals judges to an uncontested merit election system.

Services are pending. Further details will be posted on the Florida Supreme Court website when they become available.