J. Lee Rankin

James Lee Rankin (July 8, 1907 – June 26, 1996[1]) was the 31st United States Solicitor General.

J. Lee Rankin
J. Lee Rankin.jpg
31st Solicitor General of the United States
In office
August 4, 1956 – January 23, 1961
PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded bySimon Sobeloff
Succeeded byArchibald Cox
Personal details
James Lee Rankin

(1907-07-08)July 8, 1907
Hartington, Nebraska
DiedJune 26, 1996(1996-06-26) (aged 88)
Santa Cruz, California
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Gertrude Rankin

Early lifeEdit

Rankin was born in Hartington, Nebraska, the son of Herman P. and Lois Gable Rankin. He attended public schools, and earned both his undergraduate and law degree from the University of Nebraska College of Law.[2] In 1930 Rankin was admitted to the bar in Nebraska and began the practice of law in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Known for his straightforward, quiet, and friendly demeanor, Rankin (known to his friends and colleagues as Lee), loved to tend roses, play the piccolo, and was an enthusiastic amateur photographer. In 1935, he became a partner and worked with the firm for over 20 years.


Rankin served as Solicitor General from 1956 to 1961. In 1952, Rankin managed the Dwight Eisenhower for President campaign in Nebraska and in 1953, Eisenhower selected Rankin to serve as United States Assistant Attorney General.[3]

In 1953, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel. In this capacity, Rankin may best be remembered for arguing in favor of the African-American plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education (1954),[4] advocating that the doctrine of "separate-but-equal" facilities for blacks and whites was unconstitutional. After the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown, Rankin argued in a presentation before the Court that the effort to desegregate schools should take place gradually in an effort to avoid any violence that might arise from the decision. Accordingly, he suggested the plan by which local school districts submitted desegregation plans to federal judges in their states. In addition, Rankin argued a great range of other important cases before the Supreme Court. He was instrumental in resolving conflicting claims among Western states to the Colorado River, and in establishing a balance of federal and state jurisdictions in offshore oil drilling.

On August 14, 1956, Rankin was appointed U.S. Solicitor General. In response to lawsuits in many states arising out of legislative reapportionment fights, he developed the Justice Department's position that led to the principle of one man, one vote. After serving as solicitor general from August 1956 to January 1961, Rankin represented the American Civil Liberties Union in advancing the landmark case, Gideon v. Wainwright,[5] solidifying the right of an indigent person accused of a crime to have legal counsel at public expense.

Following President John F. Kennedy's assassination, and the appointment of Chief Justice Warren to serve as the Chairman of a Presidential Commission to ascertain the truth about Dallas, Rankin was selected by Chief Justice Warren to serve as General Counsel in the inquiry that concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in killing President Kennedy. According to Edward Epstein's "Inquest" (publishing by Viking in 1966, and the outgrowth of his Cornell Master's thesis in which he interviewed the seven members of the Commission, and almost all of the legal staff), Rankin was primarily an administrator and lent a decent guiding hand in shaping the investigation. The 14 man legal staff was split into seven two-man teams, each of which handled a separate area of the investigation (e.g., the autopsy, the Ruby area, Oswald's biography, etc.) Each team was responsible for a separate area of the investigation, and, essentially, submitted a separate chapter of the Warren Report. The attorney who tied it all together—who did much of the "heavy lifting" and who Epstein credited with redrafting and editing the commission's voluminous report into a work of polished prose—was Norman Redlich. Subsequently, Rankin practiced law in New York City until the 1970s, working seven years as the New York City Corporation Counsel (1966-1972).

Later lifeEdit

Upon retirement, Rankin and his wife of 63 years, Gertrude, moved to Weston, Connecticut, where they had a summer home. In 1993, they relocated to their home in Los Gatos, California. Mr. and Mrs. Rankin had two sons, James Jr. and Roger C., and one daughter, Sara Stadler; six grandchildren, Todd, Stephanie, Russell, Andrew, Amy, and Justin; and four great-grandchildren, Camden, Thomas, Hannah, and Faith.

Rankin died on June 26, 1996 in Santa Cruz, California. He is interred at Santa Cruz Memorial Park in Santa Cruz.[6]


  1. ^ California Deaths, 1940 - 1997, James Lee Rankin
  2. ^ "J. Lee Rankin". The United States Department of Justice. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  3. ^ "J. Lee Rankin, Solicitor General Who Was a Voice for Desegregation, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  4. ^ Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).
  5. ^ Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963).
  6. ^ "James Lee "Lee" Rankin". Find A Grave. Retrieved October 6, 2012.

External linksEdit

  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Office of the Solicitor General.

Legal offices
Preceded by
Simon Sobeloff
Solicitor General
Succeeded by
Archibald Cox