An effort led by U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-5th, to rename the Athens post office as the Judge James E. Horton Jr. Post Office Building has passed the U.S. House by voice vote, according to a press release.
Every other member of Alabama's House delegation cosponsored the bill, the release said.
Horton, an elected judge from Limestone County, set aside a guilty verdict against Haywood Patterson, one of the Scottsboro Boys, and ordered a new trial. The unpopular decision ultimately ended Horton's political career.
“For his bravery in the face of extreme racial prejudice and for his willingness to support justice that risked and ended his judicial career, Judge Horton deserves the posthumous honor of having the Athens, Alabama, Post Office named for him, and it is appropriate that his legacy be held up as a guide for future generations,” Brooks said.
Horton was born Jan. 4, 1878, in Limestone County. Despite having no formal education until he was 8 or 9 years old, Judge Horton was accepted to Vanderbilt University's medical studies program and later to Cumberland University, where he earned his bachelor and law degrees.
Horton served in the Alabama State Legislature until he took a Limestone County, Alabama, chancery court position. Thereafter, he was elected circuit court judge for Alabama’s Eighth Judicial Circuit. After re-election to a second term, Judge Horton was appointed to preside over the retrials of the highly controversial Scottsboro Boys cases.
The cases involved nine African-Americans, ages 13 to 20, accused of raping two white women on a train in 1931 as it traveled through Scottsboro and Jackson County. In the first trials, eight of nine defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death, a verdict later reversed by the United States Supreme Court. After a guilty verdict and death sentence during the second set of Scottsboro Boys trials, Horton ordered a new trial for Patterson. In 2013, the Scottsboro Boys were formally pardoned under Alabama law.