The Phoenix Flyer

Bill would name capital’s U.S. courthouse after the late Justice Joseph Hatchett

By: - August 19, 2021 6:31 pm

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida courthouse in Tallahassee.

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Democrat from Tallahassee, has introduced a bill in Congress to name the U.S. courthouse in the capital city after former Florida Supreme Court Justice Joseph Hatchett, a pioneer in Florida’s battle for civil rights.

The courthouse at 111 Adams Street would be designated as the Joseph Woodrow Hatchett United States Courthouse and Federal Building.

The late Justice Joseph Woodrow Hatchett. Credit: Florida Supreme Court.

Hatchett died on April 30 at the age of 88 after a long career as a lawyer, judge, and advocate for equal rights in Florida. He spent years challenging segregation and defending civil rights protesters before becoming a judge.

He was the first African American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court, appointed by Gov. Reubin Askew in 1975 after service as a federal prosecutor in Florida’s Middle District, where he became fighter for civil rights during an era of segregation.

He was also the first and only African American to win a statewide political race in Florida. Later, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and he was reassigned to the 11th Circuit when it was split off in 1981, where he remained until he retired in 1999. He then practiced law in Tallahassee with the Ackerman law firm until he retired again shortly before his death.

Hatcher was a native of Clearwater whose father was a fruit picker and his mother a house maid. He had eight brothers and one sister.

Lawson filed House Resolution 4771 on July 28 with the support of 25 co-sponsors, all of the Republican and Democrats in Florida’s Congressional delegation.

Hatchett’s daughter, Cheryl Clark, a small business owner in Tallahassee, described the action as “exciting,’’ adding “God is good.’’

“He would be honored that it was named after him, but he would probably give most of the credit to those who were in the trenches making it happen,” Clark said. “He was such a humble man.’’

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that Hatchett joined the 11th Circuit when it was spun off from the Fifth Circuit.

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Lucy Morgan
Lucy Morgan

Pulitzer Prize-winner Lucy Morgan was chief of the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times capital bureau in Tallahassee for 20 years, retiring in 2006 and serving as senior correspondent until 2013. She was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame and the Florida Newspaper Hall of Fame. The Florida Senate named its press gallery after Morgan, in honor of her two decades covering the Legislature.