Orrin Hatch helped shape nation's judiciary, tax system, health care and more

He chaired, or was ranking Republican, on Finance, Judiciary, Health, Labor and Joint Taxation committees — and was in the middle of some of the biggest congressional fights.<br>

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, speaks with reporters in a basement corridor at the Capitol just after President Barack Obama urged Senate Republicans to grant hearings and a confirmation vote to Merrick Garland, his nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

During his four decades in the Senate, one-time boxer Sen. Orrin Hatch landed powerful punches in almost every big congressional fight over health care, labor, child welfare, the judiciary and tax reform.

His support was often key to passing or torpedoing proposals in those areas, especially as he served either as chairman or ranking minority member of the Finance, Judiciary, Health, Labor and Joint Taxation committees during his career.

Following is a look at his influence in those areas.

Labor/child welfare

In his early career, Hatch first gained national notice for his fights over labor — including blocking efforts for forced unionization — with Sen. Ted Kennedy, whom he later befriended.

“One of my motivations for coming to the Senate was to fight Ted Kennedy,” Hatch would often say when he later explained how the pair learned to compromise and became close friends.

Hatch said he was forced to work closely with Kennedy when the Utah Republican led what is now called the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Kennedy was its ranking Democrat. Two Republicans on the committee often sided with Democrats, forcing Hatch to work with Kennedy to pass any legislation.

For example on child care, Hatch had long supported giving only tax breaks to make care more affordable. Kennedy pushed direct government grants and oversight of child care centers. They blended both approaches to finally pass a bill.

Bill co-sponsors Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., listen as President Barack Obama speaks before signing the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act at the SEED School of Washington, a public boarding school that serves inner-city students facing problems in both the classroom and at home, as Vice President Joe Biden, his wife Jill Biden, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., former President Bill Clinton, and Rosalyn Carter look on in Washington, Tuesday, April 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

“When we come together, we make laws,” Hatch also often said of his work with Kennedy on such issues as increasing the minimum wage and funding for education. Kennedy would often joke that one of them probably had failed to read their joint bills closely enough.


Hatch was a key player in some of the most contentious fights over Supreme Court nominees in U.S. history, winning some and losing others.

He won a tough battle to confirm conservative Clarence Thomas despite assertions by Anita Hill that Thomas sexually harassed her. Hatch even read passages from “The Exorcist” in hearings to suggest that the novel was the inspiration for one of Hill’s allegations.

Hatch lost other battles to confirm conservatives such as Robert Bork (opposed as being pro-life on abortion) and Douglas Ginsburg (who withdrew after revelations that he had used marijuana).

Hatch said he persuaded former President Bill Clinton to nominate Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the court instead of more liberal Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, warning Ginsburg would be confirmed fairly easily while Republicans would wage a no-holds-barred battle against Babbitt.

Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch, right, meets with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah In Hatch's office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

More recently, Hatch helped Republicans hold a Supreme Court seat open for a year after the death of Antonin Scalia, preventing then-President Barack Obama from filling it with his pick, Merrick Garland.

The seat was filled by President Donald Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch in 2017, preserving the conservative majority on the high court.

Hatch was reportedly himself on the short-list for nomination to the court by Ronald Reagan and later by George W. Bush, although others were chosen.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that Hatch “helped transform our nation’s judiciary for the better by shepherding faithful constitutionalist judges onto our courts.”

In Utah, Hatch’s influence is even more indelible as every judge appointed in recent decades has required his blessing — even those named by Democratic presidents.

Hatch, who has written and published many songs, also used his positions on the Judiciary Committee to write and pass legislation affecting royalties and intellectual property — befriending many notable singers as he held hearings on the issues.

His Judiciary Committee positions also made him a key player on immigration, and he pushed to expand visas. He sponsored the DREAM Act to provide a pathway to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants who were children when their parents arrived in the county — but later withdrew support saying Democrats had hijacked and changed it.

He also helped write and pass the Violence Against Women Act, the Missing Children’s Act, the PROTECT Act (creating AMBER Alerts) and legislation targeting child pornography. He also pushed the Religious Liberty Protection Act.

Hatch long pushed a proposed constitutional amendment to ban flag burning, but could never quite pass it.

Health care/taxes

Hatch and Kennedy teamed up through the years to push a variety of bills to provide health care for children, including creating the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Most important recently, Hatch as chairman of the tax-writing Finance Committee was the major force in passing tax reform that included repealing what he called “Obamacare’s onerous and punitive individual mandate tax.”

Hatch has said that move is the “beginning of the end of Obamacare.” He has said that Affordable Care Act puts “our nation on a fast-track to socialism.”

President Donald Trump, left, sitting next to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, right, speaks during a meeting of the committee and members of the President's economic team in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Hatch also had made major tax reform a goal for decades, and finally passed it last month — leading President Donald Trump and Hatch to mutually praise each other’s work on the bill.

Trump said Hatch “was just always in there, always fighting for all of us, and did a fantastic job as chairman.”

Hatch, a longtime user of dietary supplements, also became a protector of that industry as he prevented more close regulation of it.

He pushed legislation designed to help fight AIDS as that disease emerged, and also enacted legislation to help fund research into drugs for “orphan” diseases suffered by so few people that private development of drugs for them would be cost-prohibitive. He successfully helped pushed a ban against what social conservatives labeled “partial-brith” abortion.

He passed the Hatch-Waxman Act, which helped create the modern generic drug industry. Hatch also helped push the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Hatch has faced recent criticism because an investigation by The Washington Post and CBS’ “60 Minutes” found that a law, which Hatch played a key role in, helped fuel the opioid crisis across the country by hamstringing the Drug Enforcement Administration from cracking down on suspicious large-scale shipments of the drugs.

Local issues

Hatch has always said that Utah and local issues are most important to him.

Some such fights lasted for decades.

For example, Hatch fought and fumed as former President Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in 1996 despite local opposition. He did the same when Barack Obama created the Bears Ears National Monument in 2016.

He gained revenge last year, when he helped to persuade President Trump to dramatically reduce the size of both monuments — also prompting Trump to hail Hatch as a fighter as he persuaded the president to take such action.

President Donald Trump hands a pen to Sen Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, after signing a proclamation to shrink the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments at the Utah State Capitol Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Hatch also waged a fight for years — ultimately successful — with the help of Kennedy and former Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah — to compensate Utah’s downwind cancer victims of atomic testing in Nevada. Over time, he also passed amendments to extend compensation to increasing numbers of victims.

Hatch also helped pass — after years of fighting — the Utah School Lands Exchange Act, which consolidated state land holdings that are used to raise money for schools, and helped them more successfully increase revenue through such things as grazing permits and mine leases.

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