Posted on September 28, 2018
Speaks at downtown groundbreaking for Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and United States Courthouse
“Not many people go from prosecuting bank robbers and moonshiners from a back office in the federal courthouse to having your name on the front of the building, but that is what has happened to Fred Thompson.” —Sen. Lamar Alexander
NASHVILLE, Tenn., September 28, 2018—U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said today that the new $200 million federal building and courthouse in downtown Nashville should be completed by 2021.
At a groundbreaking ceremony for the new building, Alexander said, “Not many people go from prosecuting bank robbers and moonshiners from a back office in the federal courthouse to having your name on the front of the building, but that is what has happened to Fred Thompson.”
Thompson, a native of Lawrenceburg and graduate of Vanderbilt University law school, served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the current federal courthouse from 1969 to 1972. He then became minority counsel for the U.S. Senate’s Watergate Committee, a movie actor and in 1994 was elected to the United States Senate where he served until Alexander succeeded him in 2003.
Alexander said the existing Estes Kefauver Federal Building and United States Courthouse where Thompson worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney helped launch Thompson’s career in at least two ways. First, Alexander said that in 1973 he had recommended Thompson to Senator Howard Baker, Jr., as Watergate Committee minority counsel because of Thompson’s background as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.
Then, in 1979, U.S. Attorney Hal Hardin called governor-elect Alexander from Hardin’s 8th floor office in the Kefauver building to urge him to take office early because of cash for clemencies scandals involving the incumbent governor. Those events led to a movie about those scandals, “Marie” in which Thompson played himself as attorney for the former head of the Tennessee Pardon and Parole Board. That was the first of two dozen movie roles for Thompson, which led in turn to the United States Senate.
Alexander gave former Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Echols credit for leading the local effort to push for courthouse funding. “It was on the list of priority courthouses for over 20 years and even moved to the top of the list, but there was no money,” the senator said. In 2015, Congress approved Alexander’s request for $181 million to build the courthouse. “It was a happy confluence of persistence, my seniority on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and enough money in the budget,” Alexander said. He continued, “Because all of the money for construction was approved at once, there should be fewer delays, and it should save taxpayers’ money.”
In 2017, Alexander and other members of the Tennessee delegation introduced legislation to name the federal building and courthouse after Thompson. President Trump signed the legislation on June 6, 2017, in a ceremony in the Oval Office.
Fred Thompson served in the United States Senate from 1995 until 2003. He grew up in Lawrenceburg, graduated from then Memphis State University in 1964 and from Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1967. He served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Middle District of Tennessee before serving as minority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973. Senator Thompson died on Nov. 1, 2015.