Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican Senator for 42 Years, Dies at 88

Former Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah passed away at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday evening in Salt Lake City, surrounded by family, the Hatch Foundation announced in a statement. He was 88.

“A man of wisdom, kindness, character, and compassion, Orrin G. Hatch was everything a United States Senator should be,” A. Scott Anderson, chairman of the foundation, said in a press release. “He exemplified a generation of lawmakers brought up on the principles of comity and compromise, and he embodied those principles better than anyone. In a nation divided, Orrin Hatch helped show us a better way by forging meaningful friendships on both sides of the aisle. Today, more than ever, we would do well to follow his example. May we honor Orrin’s memory by living as he lived—committed to our country, to our principles, and to each other.”

A cause of death has not been announced.

Hatch was the longest-serving US senator in Utah history, serving for 42 years from 1977 to 2019 under the administration of seven U.S. Presidents —four Republicans and three Democrats — and with nine Senate Majority Leaders, as Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; United States Senator from Utah; and President pro tempore of the United States Senate.

“Senator Orrin G. Hatch personified the American Dream,” said Matt Sandgren, Executive Director of the Hatch Foundation, said in a statement on the site’s “in Memorium” page. “Born the son of a carpenter and plaster lather, he overcame the poverty of his youth to become a United States Senator. With the hardships of his upbringing always fresh in his mind, he made it his life’s mission to expand freedom and opportunity for others—and the results speak for themselves. From tax and trade to religious liberty and healthcare, few legislators have had a greater impact on American life than Orrin Hatch. He was a profoundly positive influence in the lives of those he served, whether they were the constituents he helped over four decades of casework, the hundreds of interns he sponsored in both Utah and DC, or the robust network of Hatch staffers who carry on his legacy to this day. Senator Hatch touched the hearts of countless individuals, and I know I speak for all of them when I say he will be dearly missed.”

Born Orrin Grant Hatch in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he grew up in poverty as one of nine children. After earning a B.A. degree in history at Brigham Young University, he dabbled in amateur boxing before receiving a J.D. degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. In 1969, his family moved to Utah, where he continued to practice law and made his first run for public office, winning a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1976. Ironically, he ran on the promise of term limits.

Had the chips fallen differently, he would have served on the U.S. Supreme Court, which he expressed an interest in and was reportedly on Ronald Reagan’s short list of candidates to succeed Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.

In 2000, he sought the Republican presidential nomination, but after finishing last in the Iowa caucuses, he withdrew his candidacy.

Throughout his long career, Hatch authored or coauthored numerous consequential laws, including: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 2018, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and 14 honorary degrees from institutions. In addition to honorary degrees, he received Gold and Platinum Records from the Recording Industry Association of America for songs that he co-authored.

On a private note, Hatch served as a Bishop and missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and devoted his time to building the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, “a national policy think tank that seeks to foster civic participation, bipartisan dialogue, and commonsense solutions to the nation’s most pressing problems.”

Senator Hatch is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Elaine, their six children, and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.