(April 25)  Orrin Hatch, the former seven-term Republican U.S. senator from Utah who died on April 23 at age 88, was one of the finest public servants of my lifetime.

Hatch’s dogged and principled conservatism created a legacy in which his civility was legendary, his legislative triumphs legion. Conservatives thrilled at his hard-fought Senate victory in 1976, which provided that year’s signal solace in the wake of Ronald Reagan losing the Republican nomination for president, and conservatives still celebrated his work 41 years later as he shepherded a major, well-designed tax cut through a partisan Senate. In between, he sponsored more than 750 bills that were enacted into law, not to mention thousands of amendments to other bills.

On reducing taxes, limiting spending, and expanding free-market solutions for healthcare, Hatch was unrelenting. For example, inexpensive generic drugs were far from common until their modern superabundance was catalyzed by the Hatch-Waxman Act of 1984. That act significantly changed regulatory policy and patent law to encourage generics yet still incentivized medical research and innovation by brand-name manufacturers through two other provisions.

Hatch will best be remembered, though, for his decades fighting, usually successfully, to confirm conservative constitutionalist judges. In the most important of those battles, it is beyond dispute that without Hatch’s extraordinary efforts, legendary conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas would not have been confirmed in the midst of the smear perpetrated against him by law professor Anita Hill.

“It helps immensely, as a lawyer, if you genuinely believe your client is in the right,” said Miller Baker, then a top Judiciary Committee aide to Hatch and now a judge on the U.S. Court of International Trade. “Senator Hatch genuinely believed that Clarence Thomas was innocent of Anita Hill’s allegations.”

Hatch was as fine a man as he was a legislator. “A patriot and a gentleman,” Baker said of him, “and the best possible boss.” All the encomiums since Hatch died praised his remarkable willingness to forge common ground where possible (and sometimes when seemingly implausible) with Democrats in Congress…. [The full column is at this link.]


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