Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former Utah Senator Orrin Hatch dies at 88

Photo of Sen. Hatch.
Brian Albers / KUER
Orrin Hatch served Utah in the U.S. Senate from 1977 to 2019.

Former Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch died Saturday in Salt Lake City according to an announcement from his foundation. He was 88 years old. The cause of death was not specified.

Hatch was a Utah Senator for nearly 42 years. He took office in 1977 and served until his retirement in 2019. He was also Senate President pro tempore — third in line of succession for the U.S. presidency — during his last four years in office.

Hatch was known for his work on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He recommended liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer for the Supreme Court, and supported former President Donald Trump’s conservative nominees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

He was known over the course of his political career for his bipartisanship, including his friendship with the late Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. During his final years in office, he was also a strong ally of Trump.

Utah State Senate President Stuart Adams called Hatch “a titan for Utah and our country” and remembered him as a “passionate defender of religious liberty.” Adams praised him for his work to “build consensus over political combat.”

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson was Hatch’s Democratic challenger in 1982. Wilson called the Senator a gentleman and a good sport who advocated for the state and the city in Washington D.C. He said Hatch was known as a servant to the people of Utah.

“I think he always stayed close to what Utahns wanted,” Wilson said. “I think he read the polls carefully, and it may have hurt his leadership to be so compliant to polls.”

Still, Wilson said Hatch understood the mechanics of how Washington worked.

According to his Orrin G. Hatch Foundation biography, when he retired he had passed more legislation “than any other Senator then alive.” That amounted to more than 750 bills.

Hatch was born in Pennsylvania and attended Brigham Young University in the early 1950s.

He worked as a trial lawyer and moved to Utah in 1969 before defeating three-term Democratic Senator Frank Moss in 1976. That was his first bid for office. Hatch ran for president in 2000 but lost the GOP nomination to George W. Bush.

Orrin Hatch was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is survived by his wife Elaine, six children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Elaine is the News Director of the KUER Newsroom
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.