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Rex E. Lee

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Mormon Rex E Lee

Rex E. Lee (February 27, 1935 – March 11, 1996) from St. Johns, Arizona, was a respected Constitutional lawyer, tenth president of Brigham Young University (from July 1, 1989 through December 31, 1995), and United States Solicitor General under the Reagan Administration. He argued 59 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and clerked for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White. He was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Born to Rex E. Lee and Mabel Whiting Lee, he was a descendant of John D. Lee and Jacob Hamblin and a cousin to a number of Udall family politicians.

While an undergrad at Brigham Young University, he was elected student body president. He earned his JD degree—first in his class—from the University of Chicago Law School. After clerking at the U.S. Supreme Court, he became a partner in the Phoenix, Arizona, law firm of Jennings, Strouss, and Salmon. He left his successful legal career in 1972 to serve as the founding dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU.

Lee entered public service in 1975 on the invitation of Attorney General Edward H. Levi to be an Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division in the United States Department of Justice, where he served until 1976. From 1981 to 1985 he served as Solicitor General of the United States. While serving in this position, he won 23 of the 30 Supreme Court cases he argued. Soon after his resignation, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Following a year of medical treatment and therapy, Lee recovered and was named president of BYU in 1989. His cancer later returned. He argued nine more cases before the Supreme Court during his tenure as president. He left his position less than three months before he died. At the time of his death, while in a hospital bed, he was preparing to argue his 60th case before the Court.

Lee was an avid runner. An annual race is held in his honor at BYU to raise proceeds for cancer research.

Lee and his wife, Janet, had seven children. Two sons, Thomas R. Lee and Michael S. Lee, followed their father on similar paths of law school, U.S. Supreme Court clerks, and public service. Tom is an Associate Justice on the Utah Supreme Court and Mike is a U.S. Senator from Utah.


References

  • Rex E. Lee, A Lawyer Looks at the Constitution; Brigham Young University Press; ISBN 0-8425-1904-1 (Softcover, September 1981)
  • Rex E. Lee, What Do Mormons Believe; Deseret Books; ISBN 0-87579-639-7 (Hardcover, November 1992)