Bernard Cohen, who brought Loving v. Virginia to the Supreme Court Ron Kampeas

by | Oct 22, 2020 | Obituaries

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Bernard Cohen, the lawyer whose volunteer gig with the ACLU led him to make history when he successfully argued that the Supreme Court should overturn laws banning interracial marriage, has died at 86.

Cohen died on Monday, Oct. 12 at an assisted living home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, The Washington Post reported. He had Parkinson’s disease.

Cohen was 29 in 1964 when Mildred and Richard Loving contacted the American Civil Liberties Union. Mildred Loving, who was Black and indigenous American, and Richard Loving, who was white, were criminally charged in Virginia for marrying. The couple avoided jail time by agreeing not to enter Virginia for 25 years. They moved to Washington, D.C., but they were homesick. Mildred Loving returned to Virginia, while Richard Loving remained in Washington.

The ACLU assigned Cohen, who had a private law practice in Alexandria, Virginia, and Philip Hirschkop to the case. Both lawyers were Jewish.

They worked the case through the Virginia state courts with the aim of getting to the Supreme Court.

“I knew it was going to the Supreme Court,” Cohen told The Associated Press in 1992. “And I definitely thought there was something serendipitous about the fact that the case would be called Loving vs. the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

His strongest argument, Cohen told the court, was what Richard Loving had asked him to convey: “Mr. Cohen, tell the Court I love my wife and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”

Cohen, who went on to serve in the Virginia state legislature as a liberal Democrat, was born in Brooklyn in 1934 to immigrant parents. He is survived by his wife, two children and three grandchildren.