With a ready smile behind his “serious look,” Senator Hatch would graciously walk from the Senate to House in the Capitol to offer ideas on how to reduce drug abuse among kids and get ahead of the curve, a national crisis. He advocated balance, support for police, and drug treatment and prevention. Orrin Hatch cared. That’s what I saw. He died on April 23. His example lives.
For decades, Senator Hatch served on the Senate Judiciary Committee and was Chairman from 1995 to 2001 and 2003 to 2005. He famously got along with everyone, voice seldom rising but firm. His mission was to get legislation and nominations done, not inflame, just produce.
Hatch’s gait was steady, as his nerves. He would almost never interrupt. If he did, it was with deference and contrition because something needed saying. Often, if others got spun up, he provided the wry, corny humor that turned the heat down, restoring civility. He knew the art.
Hatch’s Judiciary Committee colleagues included Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, and Patrick Leahy, none of whom possessed his reserve, whimsical, or self-effacing temperament, but he got along with them. He held his ground but did so without getting bent out of shape, even with the bent.
He lost a brother in WWII, which probably explains his strong national security posture, but he was also an unapologetic conservative, free marketeer, anticommunist, who opposed abortion – an issue to which he brought passion. On some things, he compromised – but not on abortion.
Occasionally, Hatch was mentioned as a possible nominee to the Supreme Court, although he never seemed to evince enthusiasm for the idea, more gratitude. During the tenure of George W. Bush, Hatch helped two nominees advance to the high bench, Roberts and Alito. Both remain.
But the example Orrin Hatch provided, in the end, was less about being a caring conservative, a man of faith, or thoughtful committee leader. He represented the quintessential U.S. senator, preserving conditions for deliberation, and mutual respect in the “greatest deliberative body.”
He was intentional in what he did, if sometimes inordinately deliberative, never given to shouting or gratuitous behavior, not a man who took joy in insults, so steered clear of them.
Although his style was not as rambunctious as Trump’s, cut as he was from different cloth, his conservatism earned President Trump’s respect. In November 2018, the then-president awarded Senator Hatch the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Orrin Htach was the longest serving Republican Senator in U.S. history, 41 years, sponsoring more bills that turned into laws than any living member of Congress. His influence was not fleetingly, but felt by both parties in both chambers, at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, for a long time.
His presence, in some ways, remains afoot in the upper chamber. The key to Orrin Hatch was not so much, as the media repeats, his gentility. He was that, of course. But his gentility reflected something deeper. It was not his most important trait.
At the core, Hatch was a caring, thoughtful soul, one with a rare combination of convictions hard to loosen yet decent in ways that reflected respect for colleagues, the Senate, and the Constitution.
In receiving the Presidential Medal, Hatch’s citation reads, he “helped make our country what it is today, and for that, we honor him.” Today, we live in a country with many conservative jurists on the bench. Hatch put them there. We owe him a debt. His impact and example live.
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