Rex E. Lee, 61, former president of Brigham Young University who held high Justice Department posts in the Ford and Reagan administrations, died March 11 at a hospital in Provo, Utah. He had lymphoma and peripheral neuropathy, a neurological disorder.
Mr. Lee was an assistant attorney general for civil affairs in 1975 and 1976, then served from 1981 to 1985 as the U.S. solicitor general and argued 59 cases before the Supreme Court. He was the founding dean of BYU law school and served as university president from 1989 until retiring for health reasons Jan. 1.
An avowed conservative, his legal ideology was propounded in such writings as "A Lawyer Looks at the Constitution," which cited the high court's rulings on school prayer, due process, equal protection and abortion during the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s as examples of judicial excess.
He wrote that the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling legalizing abortion gave the judiciary "the license to roam at will through the territory of legislative policymaking."
Mr. Lee, an Arizona native, served a three-year mission in Mexico for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before graduating from BYU in 1960, where he served as student body president his senior year. He graduated from the top of his class at the University of Chicago law school, then spent a year as a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White.
After practicing law, he was named founding dean of the BYU law school in 1971. His eight years as dean were interrupted by a two-year stint as head of the Justice Department's civil division during the Ford administration. Then, in 1981, came the nomination as solicitor general.
The unsuccessful battle to block his appointment was led by the National Organization for Women, which objected strongly to his opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. He had espoused this in his book, "A Lawyer Looks at the Equal Rights Amendment." He defended the book as a scholarly study of the amendment, and his appointment was confirmed without major difficulty.
In 1985, he left the government to join the law firm of Sidley & Austin, where he was a partner until his appointment as BYU president.
Survivors include his wife, seven children, and 19 grandchildren.