Former Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch Dies at 88

The President pro tempore of the United States Senate Orrin Hatch during his meeting with Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa in the Presidential Belem Palace on July 3, 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal.
Former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch. (Image credit: Horacio Villalobos - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Retired U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who opposed Title II reclassification of internet access services and who served in the Senate for 42 years — a record for a Republican — before his retirement at the end of 2018, has died at the age of 88.

At his death he was chairman emeritus of the Hatch Foundation.

As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Hatch pushed for copyright reforms. He was also instrumental in reauthorizations of various incarnations of satellite license legislation, efforts to crack down on so-called patent trolls and, as chair of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, he backed a free and open internet, the “free” being free of burdensome government regulations and the “open” meaning open for business. He co-sponsored legislation to try and block reclassification under Title II of the Communications Act back in 2010.

Hatch also pushed back on an ultimately unsuccessful effort by Obama-era Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler to open up MVPD set-top boxes to third-party apps, something current FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel also had issues with. Hatch told Wheeler at the time that he was worried that Wheeler‘s proposal, which would require pay TV providers to make set-top content and data streams available to third parties for re-use in competitive navigation devices, would “upend carefully negotiated licensing agreements.”

Also: Hatch Asks Wheeler to Assuage Set-Top Concerns

“When I cast my 10,000th vote in the Senate, Orrin came to the Senate floor and we had a chance to speak,” said President Joe Biden, a former Democratic senator from Delaware and colleague of Hatch. "I said that the greatest perk one has as a senator was access to people with serious minds, a serious sense of purpose and who cared about something. That was Orrin."

National Association of Broadcasters CEO Curtis LeGeyt said: “Orrin Hatch was a force of nature in the United States Senate, capable of guiding landmark legislation into law while also standing up for his principles. He was a tireless champion for the people of Utah, and our nation is better because of Sen. Hatch’s distinguished career as a public servant. We are deeply saddened by Sen. Hatch’s passing and send our condolences to his loved ones.”

Studios, who appreciated Hatch’s defense of copyright protections, weighed in Sunday. 

“Senator Hatch, an accomplished songwriter in his own right, stood at the fore of ensuring the success of the American creative community during his 42 years in the Senate,“ Rivkin said. “He fostered lasting, bipartisan support for the success of America’s artists and he built a peerless legacy defending creativity and innovation through his seminal work on countless provisions of American law. From copyright to trade policy, Senator Hatch fiercely dedicated his tenure to bettering the lives of America’s artists.“

Hatch is survived by his wife, Elaine, and six children. ▪️

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.