A Reagan judicial appointee and Solicitor General under George H.W. Bush, Ken Starr also served as Independent Counsel, President and Chancellor of Baylor University and Dean of the Pepperdine School of Law. Starr had a distinguished career in academia, the law and public service. After leaving Baylor, Starr was Of Counsel to The Lanier Law Firm, where he continued to practice appellate law. He also taught courses in constitutional law, negotiation and religious liberty plus authored several books and served as a commentator for Fox News. Starr died on September 13, 2022 at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston of complications from surgery.
Starr argued 36 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including 25 during his service as U.S. Solicitor General from 1989 to 1993. He served as United States Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit from 1983 to 1989, as Counselor and Chief of Staff to U.S. Attorney General William French Smith from 1981 to 1983, and as a law clerk to both Chief Justice Warren E. Burger (1975-1977) and to Fifth Circuit Judge David W. Dyer (1973-1974). He was appointed by a three-judge panel to serve as Independent Counsel for five investigations, including Whitewater, from 1994 to 1999.
For 25 years, Starr taught constitutional law as an adjunct or visiting professor at New York University, George Mason School of Law, Pepperdine School of Law, Chapman Law School and as the Louise L. Morrison Professor at The Baylor Law School. More recently, Starr taught courses at Regent Law School and Hillsdale College. Starr was a partner at two national law firms: Kirkland & Ellis and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, specializing in appellate law. He joined The Lanier Law Firm in 2017 as Of Counsel. Mark Lanier said of Ken, “Over four decades I have known Ken as “Judge Starr,” “Dean Starr,” “President Starr,” “Uncle Ken,” but most importantly “dear friend,” to me, my family, our firm, our clients, American justice, and world justice. The world has lost a super Starr, and the world is rightly in mourning.”
He served as the Duane and Kelly Roberts Dean of the Pepperdine School of Law from 2004 to 2010 and as President and Chancellor of Baylor University from 2010 to 1016. According to the current president of Pepperdine, Jim Gash, “Starr’s vision for Pepperdine was global…I am profoundly grateful for Ken’s friendship, mentorship, counseling, guidance and encouragement.” Starr also held leadership roles on many non-profit boards, including Advocates International, Christian Legal Society and the Alliance Defending Freedom Advisory Board. Throughout his professional career, he championed the cause of religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all persons.
Other boards on which he served were: The Council for Court Excellence (past President); Institute of Judicial Administration (past President); Southern Presidents Conference (past President; the Philosophical Society of Texas (past President); American Judicature Society; American Law Institute; American Association of Law Schools; American Bar Association Journal of Editors; American Inns of Court; Institute for United States Studies; Supreme Court Historical Society; Senior Fellow of the Administrative Conference of the United States, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU); Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas (ICUT); the Baylor College of Medicine, the Baylor Scott & White Healthcare System, American University, Shenandoah University, TPUSA Advisory Board, and the House DC, a faith-based after school program for inner city youth.
Kenneth Winston Starr was born July 21, 1946, to William D. Starr and Vannie Trimble Starr. He grew up in San Antonio where his father was a barber and minister. After graduating from San Antonio’s Sam Houston High School, he earned his B.A. from George Washington University (while working part-time on Capitol Hill for Congressman Bob Price). He earned a Master of Arts in Political Science from Brown University and his Juris Doctor degree from Duke University Law School where he was Order of the Coif and served as Note and Comment Editor on the Duke Law Journal. He and Alice Jean Mendell of Mamaroneck, New York were married on August 23, 1970, one week before he began law school. He was admitted to practice law in Texas, California, the District of Columbia, Virginia, and the United States Supreme Court.
Starr was author of many articles and several highly acclaimed books: Religious Liberty in Crisis: Exercising Your Faith in an Age of Uncertainty was described by best-selling author Os Guinness as “seasoned, wise, magisterial, and gracefully written — a comprehensive judge’s tour of the religious freedom horizon;” First Among Equals: The Supreme Court in American Life, was praised by U.S. Circuit Judge David B. Sentelle as “eminently readable and informative…not just the best treatment to-date of the Court after Chief Justice Earl Warren, it is likely to have that distinction for a long, long time;” Bear Country: The Baylor Story and Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation (a New York Times best seller in 2018).
He received numerous honors and awards, including the Edmund Randolph Award for Outstanding Service in the Department of Justice, the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service, the J. Reuben Clark Law Society 2005 Distinguished Service Award, the 2004 Capital Book Award, and the Jefferson Cup award from the FBI. He received honorary doctoral degrees from American University, Hampton Sydney College, Shenandoah University, and Pepperdine University.
Starr is survived by his beloved wife Alice Mendell Starr, to whom he was married for 52 years. They lived in Northern Virginia, California and most recently Waco, Texas. In addition, he is survived by his three children, Randall P. Starr married to Melina T. Starr, Carolyn S. Doolittle married to Cameron M. Doolittle, and Cynthia S. Roemer married to Justin M. Roemer, plus nine precious grandchildren: Grace, Christiana, Hewson and Sandhana Doolittle; William and Charlotte Starr; and Sienna, Madison and Colton Roemer. Starr is also survived by his sister, Billie Jeayne Reynolds and brother, Jerry Starr. Speaking for all of Ken’s children, Randall said: “We are deeply saddened with the loss of our dear and loving Father and Grandfather, whom we admired for his prodigious work ethic, but who always put his family first. The love, energy, endearing sense of humor, and fun-loving interest Dad exhibited to each of us was truly special, and we cherish the many wonderful memories we were able to experience with him. He is now with his Lord and Savior.”
Starr was beloved by many treasured colleagues and friends. Tommye Lou Davis, who served as Starr’s Chief of Staff at Baylor University, said of her time serving with Ken, “It was a great honor to serve Baylor alongside Ken Starr. His warm, inclusive personality brought the campus uniquely together. He was deeply loved by students, highly respected by faculty and staff, and greatly admired by alumni and the broader Baylor family. Judge Starr’s brilliant mind, affable personality, and tireless efforts on behalf of the University have left an indelible mark on all of us fortunate enough to have worked with him. I will always be grateful for his friendship, dynamic leadership and selfless service to Baylor University.”
Robert Vagley, former President of the American Insurance Association and a friend of nearly four decades, said to an inquiring reporter that he deeply admired “Ken’s absolute decency, his rock solid faith, his love for his wife and children, his loyalty to family and friends, his devotion to our country and Constitution, his belief in the rule of law and an ordered and civil society, his willingness to serve for the greater good without regard for his own plans and wishes, his always sunny disposition, his charity and good will to all, his humility and selflessness, his charming and jocular personality, and his Texas-bred and Texas sized strength of character.”
Starr will be buried at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Visitation will be held at Wilkirson Hatch Bailey in Waco on Friday, September 23 from 4:00 – 7:00 pm. A memorial service for family only will be held at Antioch Community Church in Waco on Saturday, September 24 at 3:00 pm. Jimmy Seibert, senior pastor of Antioch, said of Ken’s life, “The world will remember Ken Starr as a brilliant thinker, leader, and defender of truth and justice. I will remember Ken Starr as a devoted personal friend and a man of sincere and deep faith. Thank you, Ken, for your love of God, your love of family and your love for all of us. You will always be remembered in American history, but you will be specifically remembered in our hearts.”
In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Ken Starr can be made to:
Alliance Defending Freedom 15100 N. 90th Street, Scottsdale, AZ 85260
Religious Freedom Institute 316 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Suite 501
Washington, DC 20003