Jackson Federal Courthouse Named for Retired Senator Thad Cochran

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Posted in 2016

So, let’s say your favorite uncle and noted raconteur, Eddie Ballotman, recently went to the voting booth in the sky. Eddie was a regular at Gene’s Pool Hall, where he regaled patrons from opening until closing with his views on the federal government. His political stance could best be described as Contrarian, and he took both parties to task on an equal basis. Poll workers dreaded seeing Eddie, as he felt constrained to share his political wisdom with anyone waiting for to cast a ballot. “I’ve been thrown out of better places than this!” was his usual boast, as he was escorted out the door and off the premises.

Eddie was on his way from a Dakota Pipeline Protest Planning Meeting and on his way to his concealed carry class when he was run over by a Prius whose driver was blinded by his own cigar smoke. He was buried with great pomp and circumstance, complete with a red side/blue side casket. You want to do more, though, for the man who dedicated his life to opposing the federal government, no matter which party was in power. Maybe — could you get a federal building named after him?

The short answer — well, the long answer, too, actually — is “not likely.”

It takes, literally, an Act of Congress to name a federal building. Legislation effecting a name change passes through different committees, depending on the type of building to be named. For a Post Office, House bills are referred to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, while Senate bills are referred to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. While these bills are typically passed without controversy, there are certain rules for picking an honoree, particularly in the Senate. The first rule is that, with some exceptions for judges or elected officials, the honoree must be deceased. Uncle Eddie meets that requirement. Still, you cannot simply submit his name to Congress and hope for the best; typically, the members of Congress for the district in which the postal facility is located jointly sponsor the bill. Given Uncle Eddie’s reputation as a literary firebrand — both to members of Congress and the local media — it is not likely that any member of Congress, much less the entire delegation, would sponsor such legislation.

At any rate, the largest postal facility in the Jackson area, probably in the state, is taken. In 1994, the “new” downtown facility was named the “Medgar Wiley Evers Post Office,” for reasons that need not be explained. On Labor Day of that year, his widow, Myrlie Evers, cut the ribbon at the dedication ceremony, while a church choir sang, “He’s so Wonderful.” No one has ever sung that about Uncle Eddie.

What other federal buildings located in Jackson could be “honored” with Uncle Eddie’s name out front? The VA Hospital is also out. Legislation to name a VA facility must originate in the Veterans’ Affairs Committee of either branch of Congress, and their rules prohibit naming a VA facility after an individual unless the individual is deceased and is a veteran who (i) was instrumental in the construction of the facility to be named, or (ii) was a recipient of the Medal of Honor, or, as determined by the chairman and ranking minority member, otherwise performed military service of an extraordinarily distinguished character; a Member of the United States House of Representatives or Senate who had a direct association with such facility; an Administrator of Veterans Affairs, a Secretary of Veterans Affairs, a Secretary of Defense or of a service branch, or a military or other federal civilian official of comparable or higher rank; or an individual who, as determined by the chairman and ranking minority member, performed outstanding service for veterans.

Again, each member of the congressional delegation representing the state in which the designated facility is located must indicate, in writing, his or her support of the bill.

Eddie tried to enlist in the Marine Corps two months after President Nixon signed the settlement agreement that ended the Vietnam War. He might have had more luck if he hadn’t shown up in his “F*ck the Draft” t-shirt, and even better luck if he hadn’t burned that American flag on the front steps. By that point, even his solemn proclamation that he wanted to go to Vietnam and “shoot everything in sight” couldn’t save his doomed military career, and that office may have been the fabled “better place” that Uncle Eddie was thrown out of.

At any rate, the VA facility in Jackson is already named for G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, who not only was awarded the bronze star for his service during World War II, but retired from the Mississippi National Guard as a major general. Montgomery served in the United States House of Representatives for thirty years, thirteen of which were as chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committees. During that time, he promoted legislation increasing veterans’ access to home loans, life insurance, medical coverage, and education – a slightly more productive career than Uncle Eddie’s lawn mower repair shop.

What about a federal building? Uncle Eddie frequented his — he knew all of the employees at his local IRS and Social Security offices by name. They knew him by name, too; it just wasn’t “Eddie.” A courthouse? Uncle Eddie loved them, too; in fact, he was what the Clerk’s Office would term a “frequent filer.” Again, not likely.

Bills to name most federal buildings generally originate in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee or the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Their requirements are generally similar to those for naming Post Office facilities — the individual must, with certain exceptions, be dead; the Congressional delegation must agree with the nomination; and, at least for the House Committee, the honoree should have a “good reputation.” Again, Uncle Eddie has nailed the “dead” requirement, but his reputation has likely foreclosed the possibility that a building will be named after him.

Not to be confused with the federal courthouse,1 the federal building in downtown Jackson is named after Dr. A. H. McCoy, making the structure the first federal building in the country to be named for an African American. His remarkable life and accomplishments prompted a local grassroots movement to name the building after him. In fact, his dental practice was located on part of the building’s site. McCoy founded other businesses and helped develop the Farish Street business district. He was also active in the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP. The closest Uncle Eddie ever came to the NAACP was a demonstration where he attempted to protest both the NAACP and the Klan. That resulting head injury may explain some of his more aberrant behavior.

So, we finally come to that almost-new, imposing federal courthouse just north of the Medgar Wiley Evers Post Office. Can Eddie get that one? Nope. Congress has officially named the Jackson Courthouse as the “Thad Cochran United States Courthouse,” honoring the recently retired United States Senator. The measure was included within Congress’ most recent omnibus spending bill. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont pushed to include the language within the bill.

“I count Thad among my dearest friends, and his leadership in the Senate is sorely missed,” said Senator Leahy. “Despite being on different ends of the political spectrum, over the years Thad and I crossed the aisle to work hand-in-hand for the American people. His legacy will live in Mississippi and across the country for generations and it was an honor to be a part of this small gesture.” The renaming was also supported by Senator Roger Wicker. “This is a fitting tribute to Senator Cochran’s lifetime of public service,” said Senator Wicker. “As our republic’s tenth longest-serving senator, Thad has fought hard for the people of Mississippi and consistently sought the best interests of our nation. I am honored that the same federal courthouse that houses my Jackson office will bear his name.”

Arthur Johnston, clerk of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, released a statement saying that Senator Cochran was instrumental in obtaining funding for the construction of the facility, had a hand in nominating and securing Senate confirmation for every District Judge currently in service in the court and also Mississippi’s four judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He also practiced law in the court. “So, for all of these reasons, not to mention his longstanding reputation for statesmanship, it is quite fitting that this building be dedicated to him,” said Johnston.

Johnston says they are working with the General Services Administration (GSA) to schedule a dedication ceremony that will hopefully take place within the next 90 days.

Out of Order. Eddie was here.

All is not lost, however, for Uncle Eddie. Despite its relative newness, things in the Thad Cochran United States Courthouse will break. Elevators and toilets, in particular, have a propensity for going out of service, and when those two amenities are non-functional, an “Out of Order” sign is necessarily posted on the offending equipment. I propose that Uncle Eddie be honored with the Eddie Ballotman Out of Order sign:

OUT OF ORDER. Eddie was here.

On a completely unrelated note — In February, the Southern District began offering information to the public via a Twitter account, accessible @USDC_MSS. As of last week, the account has 213 followers. Apparently, the technology has not advanced to the point where we can determine if any of them is a Kardashian.

  1. This is a particularly meaningful distinction if you are stuck in an elevator at the federal courthouse, but that’s another story.