House OKs bill naming Salt Lake City’s federal courthouse for Orrin Hatch

Longest-serving Utah senator had a hand in virtually every Supreme Court appointment and all Utah federal judges during his 42 years in office.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Traffic passes the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 13, 2020. The U.S. House gave final passage Tuesday to a bill to name the courthouse to honor former Sen. Orrin Hatch.

It’s time to quit calling the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City the “Borg Cube” because of its resemblance to an alien ship in “Star Trek.” The U.S. House gave final passage Tuesday to a bill to officially name it the Orrin G. Hatch Courthouse to honor Utah’s longest-serving senator.

After a unanimous voice vote, the bill now goes to President Donald Trump for his expected signature. It comes after many people had speculated ever since the building was completed in 2013 that it would someday be named for Hatch, although that created controversy in some corners.

I felt immensely humbled when I heard about the naming of the federal courthouse,” Hatch said in a statement Tuesday. “As one of the longest-serving members in the history of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I made it my life’s legacy to defend the rule of law and the integrity of our courts. I hope the naming of the federal courthouse will inspire generations of judges and attorneys to carry on this legacy.”

He thanked members of Congress who made it happen, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, and Congressman Ben McAdams, who, Hatch said, “worked tirelessly behind the scenes — as only he could — to put this bill on [House] Speaker Pelosi’s radar. I’d like to thank them and all members of the Utah House delegation for this incredibly kind gesture.”

Many of those members praised Hatch on Tuesday.

(Manuel Balce Ceneta | AP file phto) President Donald Trump presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah during a White House ceremony on Nov. 16, 2018. On Tuesday, the U.S. House gave final approval to name the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City to honor Hatch.

McAdams, D-Utah, said in House debate that Hatch “was a remarkable reminder of the bipartisanship that we need to return to.”

He added, “Sen. Hatch worked with his longtime friend, [Democratic] Sen. Ted Kennedy, to pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. He also worked across the aisle to pass the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which compensated Utahns who suffered radiation exposure because of their proximity to the Nevada nuclear test site.”

McAdams said Hatch “showed what it’s like to work with folks from all walks of life and all ends of the political spectrum. He respected a difference of opinion. He welcomed a healthy debate. And he knew that at the end of the day, we are all trying to make our state and our country a better place.”

Rep. Chris Stewart said in debate that Hatch was a mentor to him, and praised Hatch “as the longest serving Republican senator of all U.S. history.”

He added: “I love this fact, it’s remarkable: He passed more legislation than any other senator who is alive today, more than 750 bills, which I think reflects on not only his long career, but on his ability to work with others because he could not have done that by himself.”

Stewart noted that Hatch chaired three major committees over the years: Judiciary, Labor and Finance.

“He had unparalleled impact on the judiciary,” Stewart said. “It’s perfectly appropriate that we name the new courthouse in Salt Lake City [for] this distinguished gentleman.”

Stewart is the brother of senior U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart, a Republican appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1999 in no small part because of Hatch’s influence.

The Senate initially had passed legislation to name the courthouse, on the corner of 400 South and West Temple for Hatch, in 2018 as a surprise tribute shortly before he retired. However, that was largely symbolic because congressional rules generally forbid naming a federal building for a sitting senator, and the House never considered the bill.

No action had occurred on the naming until last month, shortly after Sen. Lee reintroduced a bill along with Sen. Romney.

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

“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. Hatch himself would eventually serve 42 years.

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 the honor goes to Hatch.

Lee said Tuesday, “Sen. Hatch dedicated his life to serving Utah and his impact on the state of Utah cannot be overstated. As one of the longest serving chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee he left a lasting legacy on our nation’s federal judiciary so it is only appropriate that Utah’s federal courthouse be named in his honor.”

Romney, Hatch’s hand-picked successor, added that Hatch “is one of our state and country’s most dedicated public servants. I was pleased to see the House move to approve our legislation in a timely manner, and I look forward to the day soon when we see Sen. Hatch’s name on the front of our courthouse building.”