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Roberts, Lee once adversaries

John Roberts and Rex Lee, then president of BYU, argued opposite sides of a case before the Supreme Court in 1994, a case Roberts remembers too well.

The two had worked together in the early 1980s when Roberts was a young attorney in the Department of Justice and Lee was the U.S. solicitor general.

During a visit to BYU in 2002, Roberts told the story of arguing that case against Lee, who died in 1996:

"In 1994, I argued a case in the Supreme Court against General Lee, as I always called him and as he liked to be called. With the foresight that I might someday be speaking at a symposium in honor of Rex Lee, I had the graciousness to lose 9 to nothing. But the argument was revealing.

"I was the petitioner. I got up first. It was immediately apparent from the questioning that there were three independent grounds on which the court was going to rule against me unanimously, and they proceeded to beat me over the head for a half hour. I staggered to my seat, and then Rex got up. And early on into his argument, Justice O'Connor — in a very uncharacteristic burst of cruelty — asked Rex Lee why he had neglected to raise a fourth argument which would also be a winning argument.

"Rex turned and looked down at me, literally and figuratively, and, with a wink that I am sure was perceptible only to me, said something to the effect that he did not want to be accused of piling on. So, Rex, among other things, was a very gracious winner.

"I would like to be able to tell a story about him being a gracious loser, but unfortunately I never did beat him in a case."