First Black man on Florida Supreme Court, Joseph Hatchett, has died
Joseph Hatchett. Image via Florida Supreme Court.

Joseph Hatchett
Hatchett was appointed to the court in 1975.

The first Black man to serve on the Florida Supreme Court, former Justice Joseph W. Hatchett, has died at 88.

Hatchett made history becoming the first African-American to serve on Florida’s highest court. He was appointed by former Gov. Reubin Askew in 1975, according to a news release from the court.

Hatchett continued to break barriers in his career after former President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1979. He became the first Black man to serve in a federal circuit that covered the Deep South.

The former Justice died Friday in Tallahassee, although the cause has not been released.

Hatchett was born in 1932 in Clearwater, where he grew up. He graduated from Florida A&M University in 1954, then earned his law degree in 1959 from the Howard University School of Law.

The former Justice earned his law degree in a time where racial segregation was policy. When taking the Florida Bar Exam in 1959, black examinees could not stay in the hotel where the test was administered because of Jim Crow regulations still in effect, according to the release.

After working at a private practice in Daytona Beach, Hatchett was appointed assistant United States attorney for the Middle District of Florida in 1966. One year later, he was designated first assistant United States attorney. Then, in 1971, he was appointed United States magistrate for the Middle District of Florida.

In 1976, in defending his seat on the Florida Supreme Court, Hatchett became the first African American to win a Florida statewide contested election during the 20th century. It was the last contested election for the Florida Supreme Court before constitutional reforms moved state appeals judges to an uncontested merit election system.

Hatchett retired in 1999 and returned to private practice in Tallahassee with the Akerman firm.

Hatchett was preceded in death by his wife Betty Hatchett, and is survived by his two children, Cheryl Clark and Brenda Hatchett.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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