DENVER -- Byron R. White, a Rhodes scholar and football hero who became one of the U.S. Supreme Court's longest-serving justices, was known for a quality that typified his stalwart role on the court: Bone-crushing handshakes.
"You had to squeeze back hard or he would hurt you," Justice Antonin Scalia recalled Monday. "I always thought that an apt symbol for his role on this court: He worked hard and well, and by doing so forced you to do the same."
White, appointed by President Kennedy but remembered as a law-and-order conservative who opposed much of the court's liberal 1960s agenda, died Monday of complications from pneumonia. He was 84.
President Bush recalled White as "a distinguished jurist who served his country with honor and dedication." Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist recalled White as a fine colleague and friend.
"He came as close as anyone I have known to meriting Matthew Arnold's description of Sophocles: 'He saw life steadily and saw it whole,"' Rehnquist said Monday.
A football star as a young man, White served 31 years on the court before retiring in 1993. In the court's history, only eight justices served longer.
He grew up the tiny Colorado town of Wellington, graduated first in his class and was an All-American football player at the University of Colorado before going to England as a Rhodes scholar.
White received high honors at Yale law school, served in World War II and was known to a generation of sports fans as "Whizzer" White, once the best-paid player in the National Football League. White bristled at the nickname.
White had campaigned for Kennedy in Colorado and served as his deputy attorney general before the president asked him to serve on the high court in 1962 at age 44.
White went on to mark his independence from Kennedy's brand of liberalism, supporting civil rights laws but dissenting as the court moved to expand other rights and protections that White sometimes found troubling.
White dissented from the court's 1966 Miranda v. Arizona ruling that requires police to recite constitutional rights to those they arrest. He dissented again in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
He voted to give federal courts broad powers to order racial desegregation of the nation's public schools, but he later opposed broad use of affirmative action to remedy past discrimination in employment.
White also wrote for the court when it struck down capital punishment for rapists, declared nude dancing a constitutionally protected form of expression, exempted child pornography from free-speech protections and stripped presidential Cabinet members of the absolute immunity from civil lawsuits.
Although his own views changed little, change around him on the court made White a consistent, if independent, member of an increasingly conservative majority. A hard-liner on law-and-order, White often spoke for the court in decisions enhancing police authority.
Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David M. Ebel, who works in the Denver courthouse that bears White's name, said he was intimidated when he first clerked for White from 1965 to 1966.
"Before I could frame a question, he would have the answer completed," said Ebel, who worked with White as he assembled his Miranda dissent.
The middle-aged White sometimes challenged Ebel and other clerks to midafternoon basketball games on the top floor of the Supreme Court. It was jokingly referred to as the highest court in the nation.
"He could better any of us with his hands behind his back," Ebel said.
Ebel, who became a federal judge 30 years later, said White's love of the law and his non-ideological approach has influenced the way he decides cases. White's respect for the law, right down to nuts-and-bolts matters like jurisdiction, led the New York Times to call him the "justice's justice."
"He always asked what the law was and what the facts were and followed that to the logical conclusion," Ebel said.
White is survived by his wife, a brother, a son, a daughter and six grandchildren.
"He led a storybook life," said John Goldberg, a Vanderbilt law professor who clerked for White from 1992 to 1993. "I don't think there's a comparable biography anywhere else in modern American history for someone who's done so many important things so well."
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