08 Mar 2007 One Mississippi Senator Wants to Name a Federal Courthouse After the Other Mississippi Senator
Is this appropriate?
In my view, elected officials should not be naming federal buildings after each other, as it could lead to legislators trading favors to get their names on tax-funded structures. The public interest is not served when legislators trade favors in this manner. We elect legislators to serve the public interest, not their egos.
Furthermore, the practice of naming buildings after living persons reduces the opportunity to name buildings after persons from our nation’s past — persons whose positive contributions have stood the test of time. When a child goes on a fieldtrip to the (to make up a hypothetical example) Austin F. Williams Federal Courthouse and inevitably asks who Austin F. Williams was, he’ll have the opportunity to learn about the Underground Railroad and the Amistad affair. If the building is named after a sitting legislator, unless that legislator has done something outstanding outside of his Congressional service, he’s likely to learn about cronyism.
Oughtn’t we reward excellence or sacrifice or virtue when we name federal buildings?
If the junior senator from Mississippi wants to name a building after the senior senator from Mississippi, he could always name his own house after him. (If that strikes folks as silly, how much more silly is it to do approximately the same thing with tax dollars?)
I note with irony that the federal courthouse Senator Lott wishes to name after Senator Cochran is being built to replace the James O. Eastland Federal Courthouse, so named after a former U.S. Senator from — you guessed it — Mississippi. In fact, Senator Cochran replaced him.
Perhaps this particular courthouse is tied to that particular senate seat?
Some might argue that a schoolchild asking who James O. Eastland was could learn a few things about Mississippi’s not-so-distant past. I’ll conceed that, but what do you say when the kid asks: Why did they name a courthouse after a man who said such horrible things about black people?
The only answer, really, is that the James O. Eastland Federal Courthouse was named before history had been given the proper opportunity to judge James O. Eastland. It’s extremely unlikely Congress would vote to name a courthouse after Eastland now.
So let that be the lesson: Except in rare cases (such as Medal of Honor Winners; firemen killed in the line of duty, etc.), Congress shouldn’t name buildings after people before they’ve been judged by history. Twenty years or so at least.
So is it appropriate to name a courthouse after Thad Cochran?
Let’s discuss the issue around 2050 or so.