Bernard S. Cohen
|Member of the Virginia House of Delegates|
from the 46th district
January 12, 1983 – January 10, 1996
|Preceded by||George W. Grayson|
|Succeeded by||Brian Moran|
|Member of the Virginia House of Delegates|
from the 21st district
January 9, 1980 – January 12, 1983
|Preceded by||Richard R. G. Hobson|
|Succeeded by||Charles R. Hawkins|
|Born||January 17, 1934|
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||October 12, 2020 (aged 86)|
|Spouse(s)||Rae Rose Cohen|
|Alma mater||City College of New York|
|Occupation||Attorney & Legislator|
Bernard S. "Bernie" Cohen (born January 17, 1934 – October 12, 2020) was a civil liberties attorney and Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates. On April 10, 1967, with co-counsel Philip Hirschkop, he presented oral argument for the petitioners in Loving v. Virginia before the U. S. Supreme Court. On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Cohen's clients, declaring bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional, thus invalidating the anti-miscegenation laws of 15 states.
1 Early life and career
1.1 Loving vs. Virginia
1.1.1 Supreme Court ruling on Loving vs. Virginia
2 Work as a representative to the Virginia House of Delegates
2.1 Work with the Virginia House of Delegates 21st district
2.2 Work with the Virginia House of Delegates 46th district
2.2.1 Nuclear freeze resolution, 1983
2.2.2 Death with dignity bill, 1983
2.3 Portrayal in television and movies
4 External links
Early life and career
Cohen was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of an immigrant Jewish fur worker who was active in a local union. In an interview, Cohen associated his father's union activities with his own respect for working people and his status as a historically oppressed minority as an impetus for furthering equal rights. He attended City College of New York, and law school at Georgetown University. In the 1960s he helped found the Virginia unit of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Loving vs. Virginia
On April 10, 1967, only a few years out of law school, Cohen argued as a volunteer cooperating attorney for the ACLU on behalf of the petitioners Richard and Mildred Loving in the case of Loving v. Virginia before the Supreme Court of the United States. Cohen's co-counsel was fellow Virginian Philip Hirschkop, who had also recently completed law school at Georgetown.
Richard Loving was a white construction worker, and Mildred was of both black and native American origins according to her attorneys, though in 2004 she claimed Indian-Rappahannock and not African ethnic origins. They were married in Washington, D.C. in 1958, and after returning to their home in Caroline County, Virginia, six weeks after their marriage, they were arrested and charged with violating interracial marriage laws, a felony carrying one to five years. At the time of their wedding, twenty-four states banned interracial marriage. The couple were sentenced to one year in prison, but their sentence was suspended on condition that they leave the state for 25 years. At one point according to attorney Hirschkop, Mildred, though five months pregnant and the mother of a young child, was held in a small dirty jail cell for the better part of a month. After the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Mildred wrote Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, inquiring if the law could allow her and her husband to live in Virginia. Kennedy forwarded the letter to the ACLU office in Washington.
Supreme Court ruling on Loving vs. Virginia
On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court rendered its unanimous decision overturning a Virginia State Supreme Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the state to create and enforce racial marriage laws known as anti-miscegenation laws. The decision validated that interracial marriage bans were unconstitutional and their existence in some states and not others denied the couple equal protection under the law guaranteed by the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment. Most significantly, it reversed the right of states to create laws that banned interracial marriage or enforce such laws where they existed.
The Supreme Court ruling voided the existing interracial marriage laws of 15 mostly Southern states, including all the states of the former Confederacy. A few states, notably Alabama, continued to have bans on interracial marriage on the books, though they could no longer be enforced. Alabama did not officially reverse its ban on interracial marriage until 2000 in a special election that struck the mention of anti-miscegenation from the state constitution. After the Loving ruling, it continued to enforce its interracial marriage laws until 1970.
Richard Loving died aged 41 in 1975 in Caroline County, Virginia, killed by a drunk driver. Mildred Loving died of pneumonia on May 2, 2008, in Milford, Virginia, aged 68.
Work as a representative to the Virginia House of Delegates
From 1980 to 1996, Cohen served as a representative to the Virginia House of Delegates.
Work with the Virginia House of Delegates 21st district
As a freshman delegate in 1980, Cohen sponsored a controversial measure to decriminalize homosexuality in Virginia, a traditionally conservative state. Not surprisingly, the bill failed.
Work with the Virginia House of Delegates 46th district
From January 12, 1983 to January 10, 1996, Cohen served as a representative of the 46th district of the Virginia House of Delegates. The 46th district consisted largely of the city of Alexandria, not far from the nation's capital.
Nuclear freeze resolution, 1983
In early 1983, Cohen backed a Nuclear Freeze Resolution before the Virginia State Senate Rules Committee, which ultimately was voted down 10-4 on February 8. Cohen's resolution decried the "huge sums of money being spent testing, producing, and deploying nuclear warheads and weapons" and the strain it placed on the rest of the federal budget. It further called for bi-lateral talks between the US and the Soviet Union to begin a freeze on the production of such weapons. The chief critic of the Bill was Bernard F. Halloran, a special assistant to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
Many of Cohen's bills were not related to civil liberties, but were designed to favor defendants or plaintiffs in legal proceedings and were written in complex legal language. A large number of Cohen's bills were designed to benefit people who filed personal injury cases in Virginia courts.
Death with dignity bill, 1983
In early 1983, the Virginia House passed Cohen's "Death with Dignity" bill. The measure allowed terminally ill patients to determine whether they wanted to go through "heroic artificial means to keep their bodies alive when there was no hope of recovery". On February 21 1983, the Virginia Senate passed the "Natural Death Act," which relieved physicians of criminal and civil liability once they, with the consent of the terminally ill patient or that person's family, disconnected regulators." The bill required that the patient be in terminal condition, and that there must be "no reasonable expectation of recovery". Doctors who felt they could not morally comply with the wishes of the terminally ill patient or family member to disconnect the patient's regulator could transfer the care of the patient to another doctor.
In February 1984, Cohen strongly opposed a bill that prevented young men who had not registered with the selective service from attending state colleges and receiving financial aid. The bill passed the Virginia House with a vote of 67-33, but had yet to be brought before the Virginia Senate.
Cohen co-authored a blog entry in 2007 for the Huffington Post about the legal standing of same sex marriage.
Portrayal in television and movies
Cohen has been portrayed as a character in multiple dramatizations of the Loving case. In the 1996 TV movie Mr. & Mrs. Loving, he was played by Corey Parker. In the 2016 film Loving, he is played by Nick Kroll.
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