Rex E. Lee

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Rex Lee
Rex Lee-large.jpg
10th President of Brigham Young University
In office
July 1, 1989 – December 31, 1995
Preceded byJeffrey R. Holland
Succeeded byMerrill J. Bateman
37th Solicitor General of the United States
In office
August 6, 1981 – June 1, 1985
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byWade H. McCree
Succeeded byCharles Fried
United States Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division
In office
PresidentGerald Ford
Preceded byCarla Anderson Hills
Succeeded byBarbara A. Babcock
Dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School
In office
October 1971 – August 1981
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byCarl S. Hawkins
Personal details
Rex Edwin Lee

(1935-02-27)February 27, 1935
St. Johns, Arizona, U.S.
DiedMarch 11, 1996(1996-03-11) (aged 61)
Provo, Utah, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Janet Griffin
Children7 (including Mike and Thomas)
EducationBrigham Young University (BA)
University of Chicago (JD)

Rex Edwin Lee (February 27, 1935 – March 11, 1996) was an American lawyer and academic who served as U.S. Solicitor General from 1981 to 1985. He was responsible for bringing the solicitor general's office to the center of U.S. legal policymaking. Lee argued 59 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), Lee was an alumnus and the tenth president of Brigham Young University (BYU). Lee was also the founding dean of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School (JRCLS).

Background and education[edit]

Lee was born in St. Johns, Arizona on February 27, 1935. His parents were Mabel (née Whiting) and Rex E. Lee.[1][2] According to an obituary in American Rifleman, Lee's father was shot and killed during a hunting trip in November 1934.[3] His mother later married Wilford Shumway.[4] Lee served a mission for the LDS Church in the Mexican Mission, serving as second counselor to the mission president.[2] He first met his future wife, Janet Griffin (whose father was the Treasury Attaché of the US Embassy in Mexico City), while he was in Mexico. When Lee returned from his mission and enrolled at Brigham Young University (BYU), he again became acquainted with Janet and they married on July 7, 1958, in Arizona.[5]: 41–42 [2] Lee and Griffin had seven children.[1]

Lee graduated from BYU in 1960, where he was student body president.[6] He then attended the University of Chicago Law School. He was an editor of the University of Chicago Law Review and graduated in 1963 ranked first in his class.[7]

Early legal career and academia[edit]

After law school, Lee clerked for justice Byron White of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1963 to 1964.[8] He then entered private practice at the law firm of Jennings, Strouss & Salmon in Phoenix, Arizona.[9] Only four years after graduating from law school, Lee argued his first case before the U.S. Supreme Court, despite the fact that he had not yet led any depositions in a lower civil court.[10]

In 1972, Lee left private practice to become the founding dean of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School, and is considered personally responsible for recruiting many members of its charter class.[11][12]

Supreme Court advocate and scholar[edit]

Lee entered public service, first at the invitation of Attorney General Edward H. Levi, as an Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division in the United States Department of Justice from 1975 to 1976.[13][14] In 1980, Lee wrote A Lawyer Looks at the Equal Rights Amendment in which he analyzed arguments against the Equal Rights Amendment.[15]

He served as Solicitor General of the United States from 1981 to 1985 under President of the United States Ronald Reagan.[4] As Solicitor General, Lee argued cases before the Supreme Court.[16] During his time as Solicitor General, Lee won 23 of the 30 cases he argued during Reagan's first presidential term.[17] Before he died, he was preparing to argue his 60th case before the Supreme Court despite being confined to a hospital bed.[11][17] Associate Justice White said that Lee "was the epitome of integrity."[17] At one point, while being criticized for taking somewhat unpopular stances that might have been at odds with the administration under which he served, Lee responded: "I'm the solicitor general, not the pamphleteer general."[7][17]

Lee relished the opportunity to argue before the Supreme Court. His son, Mike Lee, noted that Lee was very energetic and enthusiastic about arguing cases.[18] In June 1985, Lee resigned as Solicitor General among criticism that he was not conservative enough.[19][20] In 1986, Lee was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.[21] Lee managed to recover after about a year of cancer treatment and therapy and was named BYU's tenth president.[22][23] According to some accounts, when Lee was asked to assume the position as university president, he accepted on the condition that he would still be able to argue cases before the Supreme Court in his spare time. He argued nine before his death.[17]

BYU presidency[edit]

As president of BYU, Lee oversaw the creation of clear standards on employment requirements and academic freedom, especially in terms of religious education. Lee believed that religious perspectives in the classroom promote academic freedom rather than hinder it.[24]: 4, 15  He also oversaw the streamlining of graduation requirements to aid students in graduating more quickly. Specifically, he limited major requirements to 60 credit hours, encouraging graduation within four years or eight semesters.[25] Furthermore, he reinstated weekly university devotionals.[26] His administration was responsible for growing the size of the campus and prestige of the university.[23] In 1993, Lee decided BYU would offer lower tuition for summer semester to increase enrollment.[27] While president, Lee instituted a rule that added regular church attendance as a requirement for attending BYU (though regular church attendance was not defined), stating that the rule would not be used to force church attendance but that those best fitted to BYU's environment would, "cheerfully participate in church activity."[24]: 156 

In 1993 and 1994, controversy arose when two professors were terminated at BYU. Arguments arose on the nature of the firings with some claiming that they were fired due to their outspoken beliefs (one of which was supportive of the Pro-choice movement) that were not in line with the beliefs of the LDS Church, while administrators claimed it was strictly due to academic performance.[24]: 218–229  These allegations sparked accusations of an "anti-feminist" BYU which Lee denied, affirming that feminists were welcome on BYU campus.[24]: 314  Lee also introduced "question and answer" sessions for faculty, students, and staff as well as additions to the physical plant of the university. Furthermore, he emphasized university devotional attendance and encouraged school spirit.[28] In 1994, Lee created a committee to raise $250 million for the "Lighting the Way Capital Campaign" for the benefit of BYU and BYU-Hawaii to reach accreditation. The campaign was completed in December 1999, having earned over $400 million.[29][30]

Before Lee's tenure as BYU president was over, he struggled with lymphoma and peripheral neuropathy.[31] He served as BYU's president from July 1, 1989, to December 31, 1995. He died at age 61, less than three months after resigning as president of BYU.[4] During Lee's funeral, BYU classes were canceled for two hours to allow students to attend the funeral.[32]


During his career, Lee argued 59 cases before the Supreme Court.[31] Associate Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito served as an assistant to Solicitor General Lee from 1981 to 1985, where Alito argued 12 cases before the Court.[18] According to scholar Rebecca Mae Salokar, Rex E. Lee brought the position of Solicitor General into the center of policymaking in the United States.[19] In 1998, the JRCLS created the Rex E. Lee Chair to honor him.[33][34]

Lee won one of the first Distinguished Utahn of the Year awards.[35] Lee was an avid runner throughout his life (he was nominated to be Solicitor General two days after completing the Boston Marathon),[7] and an annual race is held in his honor at BYU to raise proceeds for cancer research.[36]


Like his father, Thomas Rex Lee would later teach at the JRCLS, before resigning to accept an appointment as an Associate Justice of the Utah Supreme Court.[18] Another son, Mike Lee, graduated from BYU as an undergrad and a law student, before clerking for Judge Dee Benson at the United States District Court, District of Utah, and for Justice Alito, once while he was still judging on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and once on the U.S. Supreme Court.[18] In 2011, Mike became a United States Senator from Utah.[37][38] Lee was a first cousin of politicians Mo Udall and Stewart Udall.[39]


  • Lee, Rex E. (1980). A Lawyer Looks at the Constitution. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press. ISBN 978-0842519045.
  • Lee, Rex E. (1992). What do Mormons believe?. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company. ISBN 978-0875796390.
  • Lee, Rex E. (1996). Marathon of Faith. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company. ISBN 978-1573451635.
  • Lee, Rex E. (1980). A Lawyer looks at the equal rights amendment. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press. ISBN 978-0842518833.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Death: Rex Edwin Lee". Deseret News. Deseret News Publishing Company. March 13, 1996. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "Rex E. Lee New BYU President". Ensign. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. July 1989. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  3. ^ Anderson, C.C. (January 1935). "Rex E. Lee". American Rifleman. National Rifle Association. 83 (1): 39.
  4. ^ a b c Binder, David (March 13, 1996). "Rex Lee, Former Solicitor General, Dies at 61". The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  5. ^ Allred, Diana Lee; Ekeroth, Jan Nelson (1997). "Janet Griffin Lee". In Jensen, Marian Wilkinson (ed.). Women of Commitment: Elect Ladies of Brigham Young University. Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers. ISBN 978-0882906102.
  6. ^ Hill, Greg. Funeral Spealers Laud Life of Rex Lee, Church News, March 23, 1996, retrieved 2012-05-08
  7. ^ a b c Binder, David. Rex Lee, Former Solicitor General, Dies at 61, The New York Times, Mar. 13, 1996 retrieved 2012-05-11
  8. ^ Malnic, Eric (March 13, 1996). "Rex E. Lee Dies". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  9. ^ Oaks, Dallin H.; Voros, Jr., J. Frederic (Fall 1981). "Rex et Lex: A Look at Rex E. Lee". The Law School Record. The University of Chicago Law School. 27: 38–39.
  10. ^ Wilkins, Richard (Spring 1996). "In Memoriam: Rex E. Lee" (PDF). Clark Memorandum. J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  11. ^ a b Wilkins, Richard. In Memoriam: Rex E. Lee, Clark Memorandum, (Spring 1996) p. 4 Archived 2013-10-21 at the Wayback Machine retrieved 2012-05-11
  12. ^ Warning Claxons from Utah: Bob Bennett Voted Out, Millard Fillmore's Bathtub, May 9, 2010 Update; retrieved 2012-09-13
  13. ^ Casper, Gerhard (1985). "52 University of Chicago Law Review 1985 Attorney General Edward H. Levi Comment". University of Chicago Law Review. 52: 281. Retrieved 2014-03-07.
  14. ^ Ford, Gerald R. (Spring 1985). "Attorney General Edward H. Levi". The University of Chicago Law Review. 52 (2): 286. JSTOR 1599659.
  15. ^ Lee, Rex E. (1980). A Lawyer Looks at the Equal Rights Amendment. Brigham Young University Press. Retrieved August 9, 2021.
  16. ^ "Solicitor General: Rex Lee". The United States Department of Justice. U.S. Department of Justice. 2014-10-24. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  17. ^ a b c d e Davidson, Lee. Supreme Court Justices Pay Tribute to the Late Rex Lee, BYU Magazine (November 1996); retrieved April 23, 2012.
  18. ^ a b c d Gardner, Peter B. Brothers in Law, BYU Magazine, Spring 2011 retrieved 2012-05-08
  19. ^ a b Salokar, Rebecca Mae (1992). The Solicitor General: The Politics of Law. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0877229261. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  20. ^ Kleinknecht, William (2009). The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America. New York: Nation Booka. p. 227. ISBN 9781568584102. Retrieved April 12, 2019. rex e lee.
  21. ^ Johnson, Josh (March 6, 2015). "Rex E. Lee: A man worth running for". The Daily Universe. Brigham Young University. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  22. ^ Reecem, Mark; Haddock, Sharon (March 12, 1996). "Pneumonia Claims Former Y. President Rex Lee". Deseret News. Deseret News Publishing Company. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  23. ^ a b Whatcott, Andrea (March 12, 2014). "Brigham Young University presidents, past and present". Deseret News. Deseret News Publishing Company. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  24. ^ a b c d Waterman, Bryan (1998). The Lord's university : freedom and authority at BYU. Brian Kagel. Salt Lake City: Signature Books. ISBN 1-56085-117-1. OCLC 39335080.
  25. ^ Kaspe, Joanna (April 19, 1996). "4-year graduation possible with credit-hour chan". The Daily Universe. Brigham Young University. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  26. ^ Lewis, Alice-Anne (January 7, 2002). "Devotional traditions change over the years". The Daily Universe. Brigham Young University. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  27. ^ "Tuition rates to go up again in 1999". The Daily Universe. Brigham Young University. November 23, 1998. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  28. ^ Bateman, Merrill J. (March 12, 1996). "Lee praised as one of the "great men" Pres". The Daily Universe. Brigham Young University. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  29. ^ Meager, Amber (March 14, 2000). "Former BYU President's dream being realized". The Daily Universe. Brigham Young University. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  30. ^ Nielse, Janna (April 9, 1996). "BYU seeking $250 million to meet accreditation". The Daily Universe. Brigham Young University. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  31. ^ a b Malnic, Eric (March 12, 1996). "Rex Lee; Solicitor General, BYU President". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  32. ^ Wood, Audrey (March 22, 1998). "Y students, past and present, remember unusual eve". The Daily Universe. Brigham Young University. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  33. ^ Hoffman, Andrew. "Brett Scharffs Appointed to BYU Law School's Rex E. Lee Chair". International Center for Law and Religious Studies. BYU Law. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  34. ^ Southworth, Mike (March 1, 1998). "Law school to honor late BYU president, Rex Lee". The Daily Universe. Brigham Young University. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  35. ^ Beistline, Leslie (May 6, 1998). "Distinguished Utah County residents to be recognized". The Daily Universe. Brigham Young University. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  36. ^ "Rex Lee Run". Deseret News. Deseret News Publishing Company. March 26, 2004. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  37. ^ Whitehurst, Lindsay (June 28, 2018). "Governor says Utah senator would be good on Supreme Court". Associated Press. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  38. ^ Mirza, Anzish (April 3, 2017). "10 Things You Didn't Know About Mike Lee". U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report L.P. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  39. ^ Ting, Dennis (March 3, 2014). "Politics: The family business". CNN. Cable News Network. Retrieved May 8, 2019.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
New office Dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School
Succeeded by
Preceded by
President of Brigham Young University
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by
Solicitor General of the United States
Succeeded by