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Charles Rhyne, 91; Attorney Argued 1-Man, 1-Vote Case Before High Court

August 01, 2003|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Charles Rhyne, a prominent Washington trial lawyer who successfully argued the Supreme Court case that laid the groundwork for the one-man, one-vote principle, was found dead Sunday in the swimming pool of his McLean, Va., home. He was 91.

A Fairfax County police spokeswoman said a preliminary report indicated an accidental drowning.

Rhyne, a past president of the American Bar Assn., appeared before the Supreme Court numerous times. It was the 1962 case Baker vs. Carr that reshaped American politics and provided a standard for representational democracy elsewhere.

The landmark ruling, which gave federal courts the power to mandate state legislative reapportionment, ranks among the court's most famous decisions.

In his autobiography, Chief Justice Earl Warren called Baker vs. Carr "the most important case of my tenure on the court."

It began when Rhyne, who was in private practice and general counsel for the old National Institute of Municipal Law Officers, agreed to represent Charles Baker and a group of Tennessee city voters in a suit against Tennessee Secretary of State Joseph Cordell Carr and the state attorney general.

The voters asserted that they were underrepresented in the state General Assembly because Tennessee officials refused to redraw electoral districts to reflect the growing number of urban residents. That meant, Rhyne argued, that a rural voter's ballot was worth more than a city voter's.

The situation consigned urban Tennessee voters "to be second-class citizens for the rest of their life," Rhyne argued. His Supreme Court victory opened a floodgate of lawsuits filed against states to force reapportionment.

Known among his colleagues as a hard-working, affable figure with a keen mind, Rhyne began practicing in Washington in 1937. He was elected president of the Bar Assn. of the District of Columbia in 1955 on a pledge to integrate the organization.

In 1957, at 45, he was elected president of the American Bar Assn. He used that platform to urge lawyers to develop the field of international law as a way of supporting world peace.

A longtime friend and supporter of President Nixon, Rhyne served as attorney for Rose Mary Woods in the Watergate hearings. Woods was Nixon's personal secretary and the central figure in a controversy over an 18 1/2-minute gap in one of the White House tape recordings.

Rhyne grew up on a cotton farm near his native Mecklenburg, N.C., graduating from a one-room schoolhouse at 14 and attending Duke University off and on during the Depression. When he ran out of money for tuition, he worked as a cowboy in Wyoming and as a prizefighter in Colorado.

He earned his undergraduate degree at Duke and, in 1937, graduated from George Washington University's law school. He opened his own law office and went on to write legal reference books, including "The Law of Local Government Operations" and "Law & Judicial Systems of Nations."

Survivors include his second wife, Sarah; four children; and two grandchildren.

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