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U.S. House of Representatives reverses course, votes to rename Tallahassee courthouse after Hatchett

Vote held Wednesday
House Proxy Voting
Jimmy Carter, Reubin Askew
Posted at 7:02 PM, May 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 20:12:27-04

WASHINGTON  — The United States House of Representatives voted Wednesday to rename a federal courthouse in Tallahassee after the first African American Florida Supreme Court justice.

According to a news release from Florida Rep. Al Lawson of District 5, the House of Representatives passed bill (S.2938/H.R.4771) to honor Florida Supreme Court Justice Joseph Hatchett by 230 votes.

The vote comes after an initial vote to rename the courthouse on March 30 failed in the House.

The bill would rename the U.S. Courthouse of Northern Florida in Tallahassee the “Judge Joseph Woodrow Hatchett U.S. Courthouse,” recognizing Florida’s first Black Supreme Court Justice.

The courthouse is located at 111 North Adams Street in Tallahassee.

The bill’s passage in the House Wednesday was part of House Resolution 1119.

Lawson, of Tallahassee, noted that the Florida Delegation in the House of Representatives co-sponsored the measure and the bill goes to the United States Senate for passage.

“Judge Hatchett was a trailblazing American judge and veteran,” Rep. Lawson said in a statement. “He was a champion for social justice reform and a dedicated public servant. Despite experiencing racial discrimination, that never deterred his desire to serve in the justice system. He had a long career of prestigious judgeships, military service, and civil rights advocacy that broke barriers for the Black community.”

Hatchett died April 2021.

“I voted in favor of renaming the Tallahassee federal courthouse in honor of Judge Joseph Woodrow Hatchett and his many accomplishments," Florida Rep. Neal Dunn, a Republican, of District 2 said in a statement Wednesday. "When we initially voted on this dedication, I felt the process with this bill was rushed and deserved more study. After reviewing the information for this designation, I wish we could have had an honest discussion and celebrated Judge Hatchett’s many achievements. He is a great Floridian and American and should be recognized as such. I take issue with his decision regarding student-approved prayers at high school graduations; however, that one decision must not overshadow all his achievements. Now that I’ve had time to learn more about Judge Hatchett, I am proud to support the renaming of this courthouse.”

Dunn and Lawson's respective districts includes portions of Tallahassee and Leon County.

The renaming of the courthouse was halted in late March after a Republican congressman from Georgia shared the ruling Hatchett made in 1999 as an appeal court judge against prayer in a public school district's graduation in Duval County.

Lawson, a Democrat, noted the sharing of the ruling before the vote in March prevented the bill from achieving 2/3 yes votes to pass.

“I was extremely disappointed in my Republican colleagues who voted against the measure when it was initially brought to the floor because they were misled on a 1990s Hatchett ruling about prayer at a public school graduation,” Rep. Lawson said. “Judge Hatchett simply followed the precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Hatchett served as a Florida Supreme Court justice from 1975-79, was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the Eleventh Circuit during his career.

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