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Bill to name federal courthouse in Utah after Sen. Orrin Hatch awaits Trump’s signature

A man leaves the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020.
A man leaves the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. The building will soon bear the name of retired Sen. Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Republican ever on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Utah’s longest-serving U.S. senator.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The federal courthouse in downtown Salt Lake City will soon bear the name of the longest-serving Republican ever on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Utah’s longest-serving U.S. senator.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign a bipartisan bill the House passed Tuesday to rename the 10-story building at 351 S. West Temple in honor of retired Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Rep. Ben McAdams, Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, led the effort in the House to push the measure through. The Senate last month approved the legislation sponsored by GOP Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney.

“Sen. Hatch cared deeply about the rule of law and the integrity of the courts. Putting his name on the federal courthouse in Utah is a well-deserved and hard-earned honor marking his many contributions to the judiciary, to his state and to our country,” McAdams said in a speech from the House floor.

Hatch, 86, was in the Senate and on the Judiciary Committee for 40 years. He was first elected in 1976, defeating Democratic incumbent Sen. Frank Moss, whose name graces the former U.S District courthouse that sits on the same block as the newer building, which opened in 2014.

Hatch said in a statement that he felt “immensely humbled” when he heard about the naming of the courthouse.

“This news came as a complete surprise to me, and I understand that many of my friends, both here in Utah and across the country, went to great lengths to make it happen,” he said, naming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell along with Lee, Romney and McAdams.

20181022 Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is pictured on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Oct.22, 2018. Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in the United States, will retire at the end of the year, Cheryl Diaz Meyer Orrin Hatch For the Deseret News This image is licensed to the Deseret News in perpetuity across all platforms. Pls contact the photographer for further usage.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is pictured on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in this Oct.22, 2018, file photo.
Cheryl Diaz Meyer, for the Deseret News

Hatch said McAdams worked tirelessly behind the scenes — “as only he could” — to put the bill on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s radar. He also praised the late Republican Sen. Bob Bennett, who was instrumental in securing funding for the courthouse.

“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 for decades to come,” Hatch said.

Although Hatch’s name will grace the courthouse, another Salt Lake City building that would have borne his name will not be constructed. Plans to build the Orrin G. Hatch Center on South Temple have changed.

The University of Utah and the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation signed an agreement in 2018 to house Hatch’s extensive collection of U.S. Senate papers in a new building across the street from the Thomas S. Monson Center, home to the University of Utah’s Kem Gardner Policy Institute.

The Hatch Center, the policy arm of the Hatch Foundation, was to include a replica of Hatch’s Senate office, library and digital archives as well as provide a place to offer courses, seminars, fellowships and internships about political history and the legislative process.

Now, the Hatch Center will be brought into the Monson Center, a renovated South Temple mansion, said Kem Gardner, a Hatch Foundation board member and real estate developer. Gardner, a Democrat, was slated to build the Hatch Center building.

Scott Anderson, chairman of the foundation’s five-member board and president and CEO of Zions Bank, said the first floor would be leased and remodeled for the center. He said it became evident the strip of land the foundation bought just east of the Monson Center wouldn’t accommodate the type of building needed for the center. It will be a parking lot.

Some of the $20 million the Hatch Foundation has raised for the project will go toward buying townhomes bearing Hatch’s name in Washington, D.C., for interns from Utah colleges working and studying in the nation’s capital, Gardner said.

Anderson said it’s more efficient to use the money for programs rather than a building.

“Working together, we thought this was a better approach,” Gardner said.

And, he said, it all makes for a good way to honor Hatch.

“He’s got a place in Washington. He’s got a place here at the Monson Center. He’s got a building named after him,” Gardner said.

Hatch will have an office in the Monson Center and the mansion is able to host Hatch Center events, he said.

Anderson said the foundation would lease the carriage house behind the mansion to house some 3,000 boxes of Hatch’s Senate papers and provide viewing rooms. The records also will be digitized for remote access.

A Republican, Anderson said he is thrilled the courthouse will bear Hatch’s name. Although no date is set for a naming ceremony, he said he hopes there will be some type of celebration to honor the senator and his legacy to defend the rule of law and the integrity of the courts.

“I hope that the naming of the courthouse will inspire generations of judges, attorneys and lawmakers to carry his legacy for decades to come,” Anderson said.

Hatch participated in the confirmation of half of all federal judges who have ever served, and of every current U.S. Supreme Court justice except for Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Hatch supported the controversial confirmations of Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, where the nominees’ alleged victims of sexual harassment and abuse testified during nationally televised hearings.

“I can’t think of any other Utahn in the history of our state who has had anywhere near the kind of impact on the federal judiciary as Sen. Hatch,” Lee said in a Senate floor speech last month.

Hatch, who retired in 2018, worked as a lawyer before running for public office.

Lee, who served as Utah’s junior senator alongside Hatch for eight years, called him a longtime mentor.

“Sen. Hatch, long before he became a statesman, was a lawyer, and not just any lawyer. He was a lawyer’s lawyer. He was really good,” Lee said. “His skills as a litigator were so good that they helped convince some of his friends and neighbors that he ought to seek public office.”

McAdams described Hatch as an exemplary public figure. Hatch showed what it is like to work with folks from all walks of life and all ends of the political spectrum, he said.

“He respected a difference of opinion, he welcomed a healthy debate, and knew that at the end of the day, we all were trying to make our state and country a better place,” McAdams said.

McAdams, who lost his reelection bid to Republican Burgess Owens, was the only Utah congressman who could have got the measure through the Democrat-controlled House, Gardner said.

“I give him so much credit,” Gardner said. “He’s the star.”

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, called for the courthouse to be named after Hatch when the building opened six years ago. He said Hatch had an unparalleled career and an unparalleled impact on the judiciary. Stewart’s brother, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart, is among the federal judges Hatch voted on.

Stewart noted on the House floor Tuesday that the 750 bills Hatch passed is more than any living senator today.

“He could not have done that by himself. He could not have done that just with his own party,” he said.

Hatch was known for reaching across the aisle during his four decades in office.

He teamed with longtime friend, Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, to pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program or CHIP. He also worked with Democrats 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 also was an early supporter of Trump, and in his last two years in office, a staunch defender of the president.

George Sutherland, the only Utahn ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court who served from 1922 to 1938, also had been mentioned as someone for whom the building could be named. A large courtroom in the building bears his name.

The bill that passed Tuesday was the second attempt to put Hatch’s name on the federal courthouse. The first try came in December just before the senator retired. But the proposal died in the House amid a government shutdown.