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House Republicans block tribute to Black judge. We’ve seen this before.

House Republicans effectively killed a bid to rename a federal courthouse in Florida after Justice Joseph Hatchett, the first Black State Supreme Court justice south of the Mason-Dixon line, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The House appeared poised to pass the bipartisan bill last month before Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., made a last minute objection, citing Hatchett’s 1999 ruling that blocked student-approved prayers at public school graduation ceremonies in Florida.

If this ridiculous level of scrutiny leveled against the late Hatchett seems familiar, it’s because we saw it leveled against Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings last month.

The idea is that racial progress is a zero-sum game in which white people are losing if anyone else gains.

And if we’re being honest, there’s an obvious connection between these and other hotly contested efforts to acknowledge Black people, Black history and Black power in the United States.

The through line connecting incidents like the tanked vote to rename the Florida courthouse, and Republicans’ vitriolic approach to Jackson’s hearings, and the Jan. 6 riot, and the Charlottesville riot, and the right-wing embrace of Confederate symbology is the fundamental idea among conservatives that paying deference to the wishes and beliefs of nonwhite people is an indignity. 

The idea is that racial progress is a zero-sum game in which white people are losing if anyone else gains. 

As president, Donald Trump knew that game well, and he played it as often as possible. As an example, his expressed love for Confederate tributes, from statues to buildings to bases bearing the names of traitors, was always clearly opportunistic. 

Though Trump spoke of Confederate memorials’ “beauty,” he failed to convince many of us that he actually knew about any of the people he was defending. But ultimately, that ignorance didn’t matter. The point of protecting Confederate monuments wasn’t about protecting history at all; it was about messaging a belief that white people should have total control in writing it. 

And because history is a continuum we write with each passing moment, celebrating Black trailblazers — whether current trailblazers like Jackson or past trailblazers like Hatchett — risks upsetting a social order that places white views above all others. 

I believe that fear motivated GOP lawmakers’ vote against Hatchet’s commemoration. As I’ve written previously, the very notion of Black people practicing law is an affront to white bigots who can’t conceive of the law being used to do anything but bind us.

To conservatives, Hatchett’s sin wasn’t some obscure ruling from decades ago — it was the audacious reality that he, a Black man, was allowed to make it. 

Most Republicans don’t want to be reminded of that fact. And they certainly don’t want to celebrate it.


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