RIP Orrin Hatch: A True Compassionate Conservative

Senator Orrin Hatch passed away Saturday.  He was a true leader and a great friend to the Republican National Lawyers Association. He spoke to RNLA more than any other elected politician and was very close to one of our founders, Betty Southard Murphy. As the left tries to lionize him for being some bipartisan figure from a bygone age, we should remember what a strong Republican Senator Hatch always was. As his former staffer, Tom Jipping, stated: Senator Hatch was “a real compassionate conservative.”  

But that compassion should not be mistaken for weakness. The Wall Street Journal had it right when it editorialized:  

The press is eulogizing former Senator Orrin Hatch for his civility and bipartisan deal-making with Democrat Ted Kennedy. He certainly was a gracious man who represented a more civil era in politics. But we’ll remember the longest-serving Republican Senator, who died Saturday at age 88, for the moments he bucked Beltway convention and took unfair abuse for it.

The first was his stalwart defense of Clarence Thomas against the accusations by Anita Hill in 1991. Ms. Hill’s claims have achieved totemic status on the political left. But they arrived only at the last minute, midwifed by Democratic operatives, and lacked substantiation. On the Judiciary Committee, Senator Hatch subjected the claims to proper scrutiny. He helped confirm Justice Thomas, who has been a credit to the High Court and country.

Then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Joe Biden ended bipartisan judicial nominations when he created a new verb by “borking” Judge Robert Bork and, even worse, his "high-tech lynching" of Justice Clarence Thomas. 

Hatch was proven right and Biden wrong. 

In one of his many speeches to RNLA, this time in 2011 honoring Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday, Hatch laid out why the fight over judges was so important.    

Since the 1930s, however, judges have increasingly claimed the power to control the Constitution by controlling and changing its meaning. 

It does not take a legal education to understand that the Constitution cannot control judges if judges control the Constitution, or that our liberty is lost if the Constitution no longer limits government.

. . . the judicial function of interpretation does not include the power of amendment under the guise of interpretation.

Hatch’s work on the Judiciary Committee was more than being the first to stand up to Democrats' character assassinations of judicial nominees.  It was also to stand up for other causes, such as that of religious liberties.  As his hometown paper, the Deseret News, editorialized:

But then, Hatch leaves many legacies. Among them was his work on behalf of religious liberty. He sponsored the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law, which prevents federal officials from interfering with religious practices without proper cause, has become more important in recent years as Washington has tried to intrude on the free exercise of religion. In 2020, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty honored Hatch as its Canterbury Medalist.

Senator Hatch also gave RNLA our first membership pitch line: “If you are a Republican and a lawyer, then you should be a member of RNLA.”  

We’ll give the last word on Senator Hatch to Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell:

 He entered the Senate as a young principled conservative in the 1970s when the modern conservative movement was in its infancy. He held to his principles his whole career, and applied them to issues like the historic 2017 tax reform law and the work of the Judiciary Committee to the enormous benefit of our country. 


There is so much more that can be said about Senator Hatch but he was a true friend to the RNLA and we will miss him.