Judge C. Weston Houck (copy)

Federal Judge C. Weston Houck. File.

U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck, who erased a 152-year-old gender barrier and allowed Shannon Faulkner to become the first female to join The Citadel's Corps of Cadets, passed away Wednesday. He was 84.

Houck, who was nominated to the bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, oversaw hundreds of cases in his career but is best known for rejecting the Citadel's repeated legal attempts to keep the state's public military college exclusively male.

The crux of his July 1994 ruling in Faulkner's favor was that the school's refusal to enroll a state resident on grounds she is female violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

"The Citadel has made no secret of the fact that its primary goal in this case is to keep Faulkner out of the Corps of Cadets," he wrote.

"Not once has (the school) done anything to indicate that it is sincerely concerned to any extent whatsoever about Faulkner's constitutional rights," he added.

After Citadel lawyers failed in getting the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, Faulkner, 20, of Powdersville, enrolled for the fall semester of 1995 arriving on campus in the hot August sun and escorted by U.S. marshals. She lasted only a few days, breaking down under the heavy stress.

Houck's ruling only covered Faulkner. But other female cadets followed as the Citadel eventually gave up its single-gender fight.

Houck was not shy about castigating the Citadel when he felt it necessary, accusing officials of being obstructionist to his orders leading up to the eventual ruling to let Faulkner enroll.

He compared the school's discriminatory stance toward keeping women out of the school to the discrimination line it previously followed in prohibiting blacks from entering the Charleston college.

The Citadel "continued to defend this case at a cost of millions of dollars to taxpayers of South Carolina when they do not have a single case to offer in support of their position," he wrote.

Attorney Robert R. Black, who was Faulkner's local counsel during the Citadel case, said Houck "represented the judiciary at its very best."

"He followed the law in spite of enormous political and social pressures brought by The Citadel, the State of South Carolina, and thousands of Citadel alumni and supporters," Black told The Post and Courier in a recent interview.

Black said Houck’s ruling stood up for the interests of one teenage girl versus "the most powerful pound-for-pound force in South Carolina, The Citadel. He did so fairly and honestly, courageously, and with great integrity."

Today the school's undergraduate enrollment is about 7 percent women, recent numbers show, with a goal of 15 percent, to reflect the percentage of women in the U.S. military.

Houck was born in Florence in 1933, graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1956 and then entered the U.S. Army, serving until 1958. He served briefly in the S.C. House of Representatives, from 1963-66, representing the Florence area. Afterward he settled into private practice.

He was confirmed to the federal bench in 1979, taking a seat that had been newly authorized for South Carolina. He took senior status in 2003.

Houck is the second senior federal judge assigned to Charleston to pass away in recent times. Judge Sol Blatt Jr. died in April 2016 at age 94.

Houck died at home. A cause was not immediately announced. A graveside service will be performed at 2 p.m. Sunday at Mount Hope Cemetery in Florence. The death was confirmed by Waters-Powell Funeral Home in Florence.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.