One of Senator Orrin Hatch’s fondest memories of the late Justice Antonin Scalia involves cigarettes.
The two were bantering in Hatch’s office on the first floor of the Senate Russell office building, as Hatch tells it. Scalia pulled out a cigarette. It was a habit he never kicked, one mentioned in the physician’s report following his death in February. “I said, ‘Nino, you know you’re going to have to quit smoking. We want you on the bench for a long time,’” Hatch recalls.
Scalia reached into his pocket, dug out the box of Marlboros. He threw them at Hatch. “Okay! Enough,” Scalia said. He winked. “But that doesn’t include cigars, does it?” Hatch chuckles at the memory. “I said, ‘You’re incorrigible.’”
Hatch is tired. He admits as much. At 82, he is the Senate’s longest-serving member. He doesn’t sleep well most nights, and never skips his 5 a.m. workout. But the pace has quickened since February 13, when conservatives lost their judicial giant, scuttling Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to protect his most vulnerable incumbents by avoiding uncomfortable votes and headlines until November. Suddenly, a chamber so often caricatured for its languid routine was forced to act, thrust into the very limelight its leader had pledged so insistently to avert.
Few have embraced the turn of events as readily as Hatch, who has become a de facto spokesman for the Judiciary Committee. He’s barreled through media appearances in the last three weeks to sharpen McConnell’s red line: no hearings for a Supreme Court nominee under President Obama. To Hatch, the fight is personal: He doesn’t want his close friend Scalia replaced in the politically fraught atmosphere of a presidential election, and he is unmoved by Democrats’ posturing, having witnessed their “annihilation” of Robert Bork in 1987.