Bill Orton

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Bill Orton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Utah's 3rd district
In office
January 3, 1991 – January 3, 1997
Preceded by Howard Nielson
Succeeded by Chris Cannon
Personal details
Born (1948-09-22)September 22, 1948
North Ogden, Utah, U.S.
Died April 18, 2009(2009-04-18) (aged 60)
Juab County, Utah, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Jacquelyn Orton
Children Will
Alma mater Brigham Young University, Utah

William "Bill" Orton (September 22, 1948 – April 18, 2009) was an American Democratic Congressman. He was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Utah from 1991 to 1997.


Early life and education[edit]

Born in North Ogden, Utah, Orton was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He attended Brigham Young University, from which he earned his undergraduate degree and his Juris Doctor. Orton was hired in 1966, at age 16, by the Internal Revenue Service, and continued his employment there throughout high school, college and law school. While in law school, Orton also served as president of his law school fraternity and was a founder and charter member of the American Inns of Court, a law school organization with chapters throughout the country.[1] In 1979, he set up a private law practice.


In 1990, Orton ran for the open 3rd District seat, his first bid for public office. He defeated Republican Karl Snow by 22 points, a major upset considering that the 3rd, then as now, was reckoned as strongly Republican. He was re-elected in 1992 and 1994. While in the House, Orton served at various times on the Banking, Budget, Small Business, and Foreign Affairs Committees. Orton was also a founder and member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of United States Congressional Representatives from the Democratic Party who identify themselves as moderates and conservatives.[2]

Orton was one of the few bright spots for the Democrats when the Republicans took control of the House in the 1994 elections. In a year when many districts far less Republican than Orton's reverted to form (including the Salt Lake City-based 2nd District, traditionally the most Democratic district in the state), Orton won by just over 19 points. The 1994 election left Orton as the only Democrat representing Utah at the federal level.

In the spring of 1996, as he was preparing for his re-election that year, Orton was injured in an accident. As he was walking down a tunnel to make a House vote, he was struck from behind by a federal employee who was running behind him.[3]

In 1996, Orton was narrowly defeated by Republican businessman Chris Cannon during his bid for a fourth term. He left Congress as his third term expired in January 1997, and no Democrat would be elected to Congress from Utah again until Jim Matheson's victory in 2000. The Democrats have not seriously contested the 3rd District since then; indeed, no Democrat has crossed the 40 percent mark since Orton's defeat, proving just how Republican this district was. Utah and national political pundits blame Orton's loss on the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument without local input.[4][5] [6]

After politics[edit]

Following his departure from Congress, Orton resumed the practice of law and was a member of the legal counsel of the plaintiff in Idaho Potato Growers v. Rubin, a case Clinton v. City of New York in which the Line Item Veto Act of 1996 was ruled unconstitutional. While serving in congress, Orton argued on the floor of the US House of Representatives that, as a "budget hawk", he was in favor of the President having the line item veto. However, the version that the Republican-controlled Congress brought up for a vote was written in an unconstitutional manner. The Supreme Court confirmed Orton's assertions. Congressional historians believe Orton to be the only person in the history of the United States to argue and vote against a piece of legislation in Congress, have it signed into law, then successfully argue to have it overturned by the US Supreme Court.[7]

Following his work on Clinton v. City of New York, Orton joined Advantage Associates, a consulting firm made up of former members of congress. In 2000, Orton unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Michael Leavitt for the governorship.


Orton died in an ATV accident on April 18, 2009, at Little Sahara Recreation Area in Juab County, Utah.[8] Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. ordered flags flown at half-staff on 24 April, the day of Orton's funeral.[9] The U.S. House of Representatives honored Orton with a moment of silence three days after his death and current House members and congressional leaders eulogized him on the House floor.[10]


External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Howard Nielson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Utah's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
Chris Cannon
Party political offices
Preceded by
James Bradley
Democratic nominee for Governor of Utah
Succeeded by
Scott Matheson