TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida’s first Black supreme court justice, Joseph W. Hatchett, of Clearwater, died on April 30, 2021. An effort to honor his legacy by renaming the United States Courthouse in Tallahassee after him failed in the U.S. House of Representatives, on largely partisan lines.
Had it passed, the U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building located at 111 North Adams Street in the state capital would have been named after Hatchett.
Most of Florida’s Republican Congressional delegation members did not vote to support the effort. Six of Florida’s GOP members voted in favor of the measure, sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.). Those members were Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL25), Carlos Gimenez (R-FL26), Bill Posey (R-FL8), Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL27), Michael Waltz (R-FL6), and Daniel Webster (R-FL11).
One Democratic member of the U.S. House also voted against the bill, John Garamendi (D-CA3).
Hatchett was born in Clearwater and attended Pinellas High School, still segregated at the time.
He was a Florida A&M University graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in 1954, then served in the U.S. Army as a lieutenant from 1954 to 1956, before attending and then graduating from Howard University School of Law in 1959. Following graduation, he practiced law privately in Daytona Beach until 1966, while also working with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Hatchett served in multiple federal and state courts throughout his career and in a number of positions during his career. From 1966 to 1971, Hatchet was the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida. After, he served as the U.S. magistrate for the district. In 1976, Hatchett was elected to the Florida Supreme Court, following a 1975 appointment by Gov. Reubin Askew.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter named Hatchett to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was the first Black judge to serve on a federal appeals court in the South. To serve on the federal court, Hatchett resigned from the Florida Supreme Court.
Hatchett served in the Fifth Circuit until 1981, when federal judiciary archives say he was reassigned to a new seat created by the Appellate Court Reorganization Act of 1980. He served as chief judge there from 1996 to 1999, before retiring in May of that year and returning to private practice in Tallahassee.
Hatchett died in 2021, at the age of 88. Six months later, Rubio and Scott introduced Senate Bill 2938 in the U.S. Senate, which would have renamed the U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building on North Adams as the “Joseph Woodrow Hatchett United States Courthouse and Federal Building.” It passed the Senate on Dec. 9, 2021.
Having failed to pass in the U.S. House by not gaining two-thirds of the House’s support, the courthouse will not be named in Hatchett’s honor.