Florida A&M University (FAMU) mourns the death of alumnus Joseph Hatchett, who pioneered a legal career that took him to Florida’s highest court and the federal judiciary.
“Florida A&M University has lost a great son in the passing of Justice Joseph Hatchett,” said FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D. “He went from FAMU to the Supreme Court of Florida during a stellar legal career. I was honored that Judge Hatchett swore me in as the 12th President of FAMU. More importantly, his legacy has paved the way for many in the legal profession. He will be greatly missed.”
Hatchett, who graduated from Florida A&M with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1954, became the first African American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court. He was appointed to Florida’s highest court by governor Reubin Askew in 1975 and in 1979, President Jimmy Carter named him to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Twenty years later, after retiring in 1999, Hatchett took on another challenge when he joined with the NAACP to be lead attorney in the fight to preserve statewide preference programs for minorities and women in Florida.
The Clearwater, Florida native served as a second lieutenant in the United States Army and entered Howard University School of Law in 1956, where he earned both his law degree and bar admission.
Hatchett first went into private practice in Daytona Beach where he practiced criminal, civil, administrative, and civil rights law in state and federal courts.
In 1966, Hatchett was appointed assistant United States attorney for the Middle District of Florida, and, in 1967, he was designated first assistant United States attorney. In 1971, he was appointed United States magistrate for the Middle District of Florida.
Hatchett defended his seat on the state’s highest court in 1976 and became the first African American to win a Florida statewide contested election in the Twentieth Century, which was the last contested election for the Florida Supreme Court.
Hatchett also was a former member of the FAMU Foundation Board Directors where he served for several years in various roles prior to his term ending in December 2017.
Hatchell earned honorary Doctor of Laws from Florida Memorial College, Stetson Law School, Florida A&M and Howard.