The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Barnett Banks Inc. insurance case helped bring down the final barriers that kept banks from the insurance business.

Thanks to Barnett chairman and chief executive Charles E. Rice's challenge of a Florida law precluding banks from selling insurance in towns with fewer than 5,000 residents, the court ruled the National Bank Act supersedes state laws limiting bank insurance powers.

"This was certainly the keystone, the turning point for banks getting into the insurance business," said Michael D. White, an insurance consultant.

Mr. Rice played a major role in fighting the battle to win bank insurance rights, Mr. White said. "Along with some others, Charlie stood firm with his compatriots against outside pressure," he said.

The Barnett case began in 1993 when the bank bought an insurance agency in Belleview, Fla. State officials immediately ordered the bank to stop selling insurance. Barnett appealed to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, losing at both levels.

The Supreme Court ruling reaches beyond nationally chartered banks. Laws in 37 states automatically give state-chartered banks the same power as national banks.

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