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Bill to name courthouse after Justice Hatchett in jeopardy

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Joseph Hatchett

Justice Joseph Hatchett

An attempt to name a federal courthouse in Tallahassee in honor of civil rights pioneer and former Supreme Court Justice Joseph W. Hatchett has suffered a near-fatal blow in the U.S. House.

HR 4771 by North Florida Democratic Congressman Al Lawson failed on March 31 to muster a two-thirds majority needed for fast-track approval.

“I am extremely disappointed in my Republican colleagues who voted against the measure, especially since the bill passed unanimously in the Senate,” Lawson said.

Florida Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott sponsored the measure in the upper chamber.

“To witness on the House Floor, Republican votes change in disapproval of the bill during the final seconds of roll call, was abhorrent,” Lawson said.

Lawson blamed Georgia Republican Congressman Andrew Clyde for raising concerns about a ruling Judge Hatchett made in 1999 regarding school prayer.

The measure failed with 238 voting “yea” and 187 voting “nay.” However, the motion was to suspend the rules for fast passage, and the bill is technically still alive.

Scott Meyers, chair and CEO of Akerman, the law firm where Judge Hatchett served as a partner and chaired the appellate practice division, urged the House to reconsider.

Meyers noted that the measure still garnered a majority vote.

“Despite this procedural setback, however, Akerman strongly urges the House leadership to reconsider this bill under regular order where a majority vote would ensure its passage,” Meyers said.

A retired 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals chief judge and the first Black person since Reconstruction to serve on Florida’s highest court, Judge Hatchett died April 30, 2021, at the age of 88.

A year ago, the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society presented Judge Hatchett with a lifetime achievement award.

During the ceremony, former Florida Supreme Court Justice Rosemary Barkett traced Judge Hatchett’s early career, from a Florida A&M University undergraduate and a stint in the Army, to Howard University law degree and private practice in Daytona Beach, where he made a name for himself challenging segregation and defending civil rights protesters.

“His external gentleness and calmness are wrapped around a steel core of dedication to equality and justice,” she said. “His contribution to both of those ideals in Florida and this country throughout his life are immeasurable.”

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