Washington • It’s a glass box of constitutional justicein downtown Salt Lake City, and one day it will be named after a prominent Utahn. The question is, who?
Two camps have quietly tussled over the honor even as construction crews continue to work on the new federal courthouse, slated to open in March. On one side is an aggressive litigator hoping to honor a legendary and long-deceased founder of his law firm, and on the other side are friends of Sen. Orrin Hatch. It really isn’t a fair fight.
"My sense is that no one wants to get in the way of Senator Hatch if he wants his name on that building," said Andrew Morse, president of Snow, Christensen & Martineau.
Morse has prodded members of Congress and their advisers and sent letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but he has struggled to find anyone willing to sponsor a bill to name the structure after George Sutherland, the only Utahn to ever serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hands off • For his part, Hatch calls the maneuvering "embarrassing" and says he doesn’t want to be involved in any legislation to name the building.
"I’ve kind of kept my hands off of it because some have said they want it to be named after me," he told The Salt Lake Tribune recently. "I think it’s none of my business."
He said talk of naming the courthouse after him is a "very kind gesture" but not one he has sought.
"I’ve never asked to have my name on anything. Period."
While some have talked about naming the building after former U.S.Solicitor General Rex E. Lee (the late father of Sen. Mike Lee) or former Sen. Bob Bennett, most people in Utah’s political circles assumed the building would eventually be named after Hatch.
At 37 years and counting, he is not only Utah’s longest-serving member of Congress, he has also held a seat on the Judiciary Committeelonger than anyone in history. That slot has allowed him to play a key role in naming every sitting judge on Utah’s federal District Court. That includes Chief District Judge Ted Stewart, whose brother Chris Stewart is now the congressman who represents the downtown area where the behemoth new building rises.
Rep. Stewart, R-Utah, said he hasn’t had lengthy conversations with his brother on the topic but is aware of how the judges view the senator.
"A lot of the federal judges feel like they owe their positions to Orrin Hatch," Chris Stewart said. "He went to bat for those guys."
With this in mind, the new congressman was preparing a bill to name the building after Hatch — then the rules got in the way.
Nameless • Congress forbids naming any federal building after a sitting lawmaker. If the new courthouse is going to be named after Hatch, it will have to wait until he retires, which he plans to do when his term ends in January 2019.
"The reality is there is nothing we can do," said Chris Stewart, who has shelved any plans for legislation about the courthouse.
Morse sees the rules as his opening, giving him time to persuade Congress to look past their colleague and give due consideration to a political legend from the turn of the century.
"You can’t let the building go nameless for five years. That’s like letting your kid go to first grade before giving him a name," Morse argues before sarcastically suggesting the building should be named "from a list of Utahns who have been on the Supreme Court."
Morse doesn’t want people to attribute his aggressive support for Sutherland as a slight of Hatch, whom he calls "a great senator." Rather, his interest stems from research he conducted in 2011 while planning an event honoring his law firm’s 125th anniversary. He organized a ceremony, which included Judge Stewart, focused on the firm’s most famous alumni.
One of the ‘Four Horsemen’ • As a young boy, Sutherland emigrated from England to Utah, where he eventually graduated from what was then called Brigham Young Academy in 1881 and moved to Michigan to earn his law degree. He returned to Utah and was elected to the new state Legislature in 1896. He served one term in what was then Utah’s only U.S. House seat beginning in 1901, then spent a dozen years in the U.S. Senate.
He left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became a Presbyterian, a move that played a role in his re-election defeat.
President Warren G. Harding nominated Sutherland to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922, and the Senate confirmed him unanimously the same day. He was one of the famous "Four Horsemen," conservative justices who clashed with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.Next Page >
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.