Bill to rename a Tallahassee courthouse after local legend is denied

Photo courtesy: Florida Supreme Court

Recently, a bill was set to rename a Tallahassee courthouse after Judge Joseph Woodrow Hatchett was denied.

Judge Hatchett was the first African American appointed Supreme Court judge and served from 1975 to 1979. He earned several awards and was inducted into the National Bar Association’s Hall of Fame. Judge Hatchett passed away on April 30, 2021.

Several members of the Florida delegation voted against the bill that was intended to honor Judge Hatchett’s legacy by naming a federal courthouse after him—initially introduced by Congressman Al Lawson, the bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and supported by several law-making Republicans.

The bill made it to the U.S Senate, where it was introduced and passed unanimously, but after a final vote of 238-187 at the House, the motion was rejected. The bill did not reach the two-thirds majority vote that is needed to make it to President Biden’s desk.

For Congressman Al Lawson, this bill was necessary because not only was Judge Hatchett a graduate from his alma mater, Florida A&M University, he was a trailblazer in the Tallahassee community. Congressman Lawson expressed how shocking and disheartening it was to see the Republican lawmakers change their decision on the bill at the last minute, primarily due to misleading information.

“It came as a shock because a lot of people signed on to the bill in the House,” Lawson said.  “So, when it passed unanimously in the Senate because it was sponsored by Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, who are Republicans, there was no problem. Then on the House floor, when it was time to vote on the suspensions, one Republican member from Georgia did some research and said that maybe 23 or 25 years ago, Judge Hatchett went against prayer in school, and it wasn’t true.”

The congressman who mentioned this U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Lee v. Weisman regarding student prayer in public schools also opposed the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act.

Although the outcome was disappointing, Ayanna Young, the Communications Director for the U.S House of Representatives, explained that they’re still working with leadership on a solution to get this bill revised and passed.