HLS legend Archibald Cox honored


The recent unveiling of a portrait of Archibald Cox marked a special homecoming for one of HLS’ most distinguished professors and alums. Archibald Cox, Class of ’37, returned to his alma mater this past Wednesday for a ceremony honoring his remarkable career, as well as celebrating the role of public service in the legal profession.

Dean Kagan began the ceremony by recognizing Cox’s numerous professional achievements, including his work as Solicitor General in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, as well as his role as the first Watergate Special Prosecutor. It was in this position that Cox refused to rescind his request for the audiotapes from the Nixon White House. Cox’s belief that the president was subject to the law cost him his job, but culminated in Nixon’s resignation.

Quite jovially Dean Kagan noted that Cox’s greatest achievement might very well have been his appearance in the political comic strip Doonesbury, a distinction that immortalized his prominence in America’s political and legal history.

Harvard Law Professor Philip Heymann, who has worked with Archibald Cox for over five decades, followed the remarks of Dean Kagan with his observation that Cox has had a tremendous impact on the last half century of legal thought and progression. Said Heymann, “Cox was the Solicitor General for some of the biggest cases of the last half-century. He authored portions of the Voting Rights Act, wrote briefs for the Watergate prosecution, and participated in many influential cases.” Most notable among these cases, Heymann named Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Baker v. Carr, and Buckley v. Valeo. These cases, respectively, addressed the issues of affirmative action, legislative apportionment, and federal campaign finance provisions.

The highlight of the ceremony came with the official unveiling of the Archibald Cox portrait, conducted by Professor Emeritus Clark Byse. Upon viewing the oil painting, Dean Kagan lightheartedly remarked that Cox was a “handsome guy,” and that his wife, Phyllis, was “very lucky.”

Following the unveiling of Harvard’s latest faculty portrait, Cox rose to address those gathered in his honor. He reminisced about his experiences working as a young lawyer, and shared the excitement he felt when invited to join the Harvard Law School faculty in the fall of 1945. Cox referred to HLS as his professional and spiritual home, a place to which he was connected as part of an “everlasting search for human justice.”

In addition to unveiling Cox’s portrait, Wednesday’s ceremony served to recognize the importance of public service in the legal profession. Professor Carol Steiker, Special Adviser to the Dean on Public Service, introduced the “100% Initiative,” a goal to which she will work to ensure that 100% of Harvard Law students commit themselves to offering public service through their legal work. Steiker asserted that her proposal offers two primary benefits. The first is external: young lawyers offering public service improve the larger community. The second benefit is internal: offering public service may decrease the level of dissatisfaction experienced by many attorneys in the private realm. She summarized the 100% Initiative with the slogan “If you’re part of the solution, what’s the problem?”

In addition to Steiker’s comments on the importance of public service among young lawyers, Professor David Wilkins offered his own observations regarding the manner in which students perceive the respective characteristics of private and public work. Wilkins noted that students incorrectly perceive a professional dichotomy between private and public work. He suggested that many young lawyers in the private field believe that public service work “will come at the expense of advancement in their private career.” Wilkins cited Cox as one example of a lawyer who was able to combine the best aspects of both professional areas. In this same spirit, Samira Suya, a former law student and attendee at the ceremony, claimed that students seemed to be increasingly aware of the opportunities for merging public and private interests.

Dean Kagan concluded the afternoon celebration by recognizing Archibald Cox as a personal hero: someone who was a great scholar, a great teacher and a model for offering public service.

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