Orrin Hatch has been the senior senator from Utah for 26 of his 42 years in the Senate. He is retiring from that extraordinary period of service and, on Dec. 12, made what he called his “final request” from the Senate floor.
Some descriptors begin with “longest-serving” because Hatch has been a senator for a very long time. He is, for example, the longest-serving senator in Utah history, representing Utah for more than one-third of that state’s history.
He’s also the longest-serving Republican in the history of both the Senate and the Judiciary Committee. Hatch has participated in the appointment of more than half of the life-tenured federal judges appointed since the birth of the republic.
Other markers focus less on form, and more on substance. He is the only senator to have chaired all three of the Senate’s busiest legislative committees: Judiciary, Finance, and what is today known as Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. In fact, Hatch became chairman of what was then the Labor and Human Resources Committee during his very first term.
The Center for Effective Lawmaking is a joint venture of the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt. Each Congress, it assigns a “legislative effectiveness score” to each legislator based on bills sponsored, progress through the legislative process, and importance of the legislation. Hatch has been named the most effective senator six times in the previous 20 congresses, including the 114th, and in the top 10 a total of 16 times. His average legislative effectiveness score is 93 percent—higher than the average score for all senators.
In 2014, The Atlantic noted that more Hatch bills had become law than for any senator in history. That’s not bills introduced, but bills that became law. A 2017 study by the tech company Fiscal Notes named Hatch the most effective legislator in the Senate, based on 12 different factors.
Other factors contribute to Hatch’s broad impact on our country and our freedoms. While he is, strictly speaking, a legislator, Hatch has fought the good fight in more than just the legislative arena. He has filed legal briefs with the Supreme Court in key cases involving religious freedom, the Constitution’s separation of powers, and other issues.
Hatch was the strongest voice in the Senate arguing that Obamacare’s mandate to purchase government-approved health insurance is unconstitutional. Speaking of scholarship, Hatch published nearly 60 articles in law and policy journals across the country, many addressing in an academic context issues that he was also working on in the Senate.
Hatch helped enact some of the most important laws in the last century, with a profound impact on the lives and freedom of all Americans. These include the Missing Children Act, which established the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act, known as Hatch-Waxman, which launched the generic drug industry; and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
His legislative work has continued to the final days of his Senate service, with President Donald Trump last week signing into law Hatch’s bill to provide more effective restitution to child pornography victims.
In his farewell speech on Dec. 12, Hatch showed that he cares not only about what government does, but also how our politics are conducted. His theme echoed the closing words of President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address in 1861. Lincoln said:
We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Hatch called for reason over noise, patience over impulse, and fact over feeling. His three-part prescription included the “indispensable political norm” of civility, pluralism that emphasizes common purpose rather than common characteristics, and unity. His 42 years of Senate service made his final words a call to all Americans:
This is the last request I will ever make from this lectern—that as a Senate and as a nation, we listen to our better angels; that we recommit ourselves to comity; that we restore civility to the public discourse; that we embrace wholeheartedly the principles of pluralism; and that we strive for unity by rejecting the rhetoric of division.
Thomas Jipping served on Sen. Hatch’s staff from 2003 to 2018, including five years as his chief counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee.