Senate votes to name Utah federal courthouse to honor former Sen. Orrin Hatch

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Traffic passes the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 13, 2020. The Senate passed a bill Tuesday to name the bill for former Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Renewing years of effort, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday to name Salt Lake City’s federal courthouse for former Sen. Orrin Hatch.

The building on the corner of West Temple and 400 South would be known as the Orrin G. Hatch Courthouse if the House concurs and President Donald Trump sign the legislation into law.

Supporters of Hatch have suggested naming that building for him ever since it was built in 2013, but so far it has remained nameless — although some residents nicknamed it the “Borg Cube,” a reference to a Star Trek alien ship that it resembles.

The Senate initially passed legislation to name the courthouse for Hatch in 2018 as a surprise tribute shortly before Hatch retired. However, that was largely symbolic because congressional rules generally forbid naming a federal building for a sitting senator, and the House never considered it.

No action had occurred on the naming until Tuesday, shortly after Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, reintroduced a bill for that along with Sen. Mitt Romney.

In 2018, Hatch was presiding over the Senate when the bill was brought up.

“I didn’t realize that was going to happen,” Hatch said at the time. “I’m very honored.”

(Manuel Balce Ceneta | AP file photo) President Donald Trump presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on Nov. 16, 2018. The U.S. Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that would name Salt Lake City's federal courthouse for Hatch.

Hatch had previously said that it was “embarrassing” to have discussions of naming the courthouse after him, though said it was a “very kind gesture” even if he wasn’t involved in pushing for an edifice to honor him.

“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 in 2013. “I think it’s none of my business.” He added, “I’ve never asked to have my name on anything, period.”

The proposal to name the courthouse has not been controversy-free.

Courthouses “should be named after people who were exemplary in their legal and judicial career,” Pat Shea, a Salt Lake City attorney and Democrat who ran against Hatch in 1994, said earlier this year. “That does not include legislators.”

There’s also the argument against naming a courthouse after Hatch that replaced one named after Sen. Frank Moss, a Democrat whom Hatch defeated in 1976 after telling voters that the senator’s 18 years in office was too long.

Some, including Shea, had pushed to name the courthouse for George Sutherland, the only Utahn to ever serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and a former senator from the state.

But Hatch appears to have won out with a legacy as Utah’s longest-serving senator with 42 years in the Senate, a former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and a Senate president pro tempore (or the longest-serving senator from the majority party).

Sen. Orrin Hatch dedicated his life to serving our country and our state," Lee and Romney said in a joint statement. “Sen. Hatch’s positive impact on the state of Utah and the nation’s federal judiciary cannot be overstated and it is only appropriate that Utah’s federal courthouse be named in his honor.”

Lee said in a Senate speech that as a youth, he became a Senate page assigned to Hatch — and said Hatch’s dignified service inspired him to become a senator himself.

“He treated judicial nominees and literally hundreds of others like them with dignity and respect, but also with the amount of thorough attention that a lifetime appointment to the federal judiciary demands,” Lee said.

“I’ve come to revere him as someone who reveres the law,” Lee added. “I’ve concluded that it’s fitting for us to name this federal courthouse in Utah after him. It’s difficult to imagine anyone who has had the same impact on the federal judiciary, who has ever lived in or served from our state as Sen. Hatch.”