House Republicans Activate Super-Racist Powers, Kill Own Bill Honoring Black Florida Judge

Post-Racial America
House Republicans Activate Super-Racist Powers, Kill Own Bill Honoring Black Florida Judge
Judge Joseph W. Hatchett in 1975. Florida State Archive.

In yet another reminder that the Republican Party is now being run by complete assholes — as if we needed such reminders after January 6, when two-thirds of House Republicans voted to overturn the 2020 election — the New York Times reports (Paywall-free linky!) that House Republicans sabotaged a bill to honor a history-making Black judge last month. The bill would have renamed the federal courthouse in Tallahassee, Florida, after Justice Joseph W. Hatchett, Florida's first Black Supreme Court Justice, and the first Black judge appointed to the federal bench in the South. Hatchett died last year at the age of 88.

Back in December, the measure had passed in the Senate easily, where it was sponsored by both of Florida's Republican senators. Like many such bills, it was so uncontroversial that it passed on a voice vote, without debate. It was set to sail through the House as well, with the unanimous support of Florida's 27 House members. It's the sort of routine nice thing for local heroes Congress regularly handles without a hitch.

But at the last minute before the March 30 House vote, Republicans suddenly decided they couldn't possibly support renaming the federal building for Justice Hatchett, and the bill died, because under the fast-track rules used for the measure, it needed a two-thirds majority to pass. Some Republicans found themselves very challenged when asked to explain their sudden opposition to the bill that they'd sponsored just hours before:

Asked what made him vote against a measure that he had co-sponsored, Representative Vern Buchanan, Republican of Florida, was brief and blunt: “I don’t know,” he said.

As it turned out, there was a perfectly shitty reason for the GOP reversal: Ostensibly, it was because aides for Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Georgia), had dug up a 1999 AP article about an appeals court ruling in which Hatchett had overturned a Florida law allowing students to lead prayers at graduation ceremonies — a ruling that was completely in line with previous Supreme Court rulings on prayer in schools.

The Times doesn't mention this, but we certainly will: the House vote also came the week after virtually the entire right wing had conniptions during the Senate confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson, slurring her as soft on child porn offenders and a supposed friend of "Critical Race Theory." But golly, none of the House Republicans mentioned that spectacle, so it couldn't possibly have been a factor in rejecting recognition of another historic Black judge, could it?

Rep. Clyde, the first-term rightwing freak who went from barricading the doors to the House on January 6 to insisting the insurrectionists looked like a “normal tourist visit,” insists that the 1999 ruling was absolutely for certain his sole reason for leading the GOP rejection of honoring Justice Hatchett.

“He voted against student-led school prayer in Duval County in 1999,” Mr. Clyde, a deacon at his Baptist church in Bogart, Ga., said in an interview. “I don’t agree with that. That’s it. I just let the Republicans know that information on the House floor. I have no idea if they knew that or not.”

The Times notes that, in addition to his change of heart on the January 6 attack, including a vote against honoring Capitol Police officers, Rep. Clyde has a remarkably consistent voting record when it comes to a particular topic. See if you can guess what topic it is!

He also opposed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, which made lynching a federal hate crime and explicitly outlawed an act that was symbolic of the country’s history of racial violence. Mr. Clyde also voted against recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. [...]

Mr. Clyde insisted that race had nothing to do with his opposition to the measure. “We’re one race — the human race,” he said. “It has everything to do with the decision he made.”

The day after the vote on renaming the federal courthouse, Clyde also gave a House floor speech condemning Jackson, repeating the same distortions of her judicial record that had dominated the Senate hearings and accusing her of advancing horrific "wokeness." But he didn't mention her race, so everything's cool and we're probably just being mean to the poor fellow, who went beyond the usual complaints that Brown was soft on child porn offenders (her sentences were consistent with other federal judges) and suggested she's a fan of "child sex torture." Perfectly normal discourse from a perfectly normal Republican.

As the Times points out, Hatchett was truly a historic figure in the Florida judiciary, the sort of person for whom buildings get named all the time.

Justice Hatchett could not stay in the hotel where the Florida bar exam was being administered when he took it in 1959 because of Jim Crow laws segregating the South. When he was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, Judge Hatchett was the first Black man to serve on a circuit that covered the Deep South.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and one of the bill’s sponsors, said the judge, an Army veteran who died last year at 88, had “lived an inspiring life of service.”

Senator Rick Scott of Florida, a Republican who co-sponsored the measure, said in a statement after the Senate passed the bill in December that Judge Hatchett “broke barriers that have inspired countless others in the legal profession.”

Ah, but that one time in 1999 Hatchett threw out a school prayer law that the Supreme Court at the time would absolutely have thrown out had the case gone that far, so no way should any good Republican honor the dirty Jesus-hater.

GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, a moral paragon in his own right, explained he'd seen the light, and had little choice but to reverse course, explaining in a statement that "a colleague shared some of the judge’s rulings with me I had not previously read,” and that “This caused me to withdraw my support for the measure."

Even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) voted against the bill, although he didn't offer a reason why.

Not surprisingly, Democrats were plenty pissed off by the sudden Republican reversal on the bill.

“I was appalled,” said Representative Kathy Castor, Democrat of Florida, who grew up hearing about Judge Hatchett from her father, a former county court judge. “I was looking around, saying, ‘What is happening?’” [...]

Livid as she watched the red lights signifying “no” fill the vote board on the wall of the House chamber, Ms. Castor said she approached one of her Republican colleagues on the floor, searching for answers.

“They didn’t articulate a reason for voting ‘no,’” she said. “It was knee-jerk, herd mentality.”

Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz put it even more bluntly, noting that

"If the standard that we use is one ruling out of thousands, then what else could we conclude but that they are not willing to name a courthouse after a Black person?" [...] "It seems pretty suspect."

Gosh, Democrats are so obsessed with race. It's getting to where Republicans can't arbitrarily kill a bill to honor a respected Black jurist, at the same time they're slagging another respected Black jurist, without Democrats just dragging race into everything. Why can't they simply accept that the real problem was that Hatchett obviously hated Jesus?

[NYT (free linky) / Photo: Florida Archives]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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