Cover, Robert M. (1943–1986)

views updated

COVER, ROBERT M. (1943–1986)

Born in Boston in 1943, Robert M. Cover earned his B.A. from Princeton University in 1965. In 1963 Cover had left Princeton to work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Georgia, where he was jailed and beaten. Although he became a superb scholar and an inspirational teacher and friend, Cover remained an engaged activist. He believed that "legal meaning is a challenging enrichment of social life, a potential restraint on arbitrary power and violence." He never separated himself or his work from that pursuit.

Cover received his LL.B. from Columbia Law School in 1968, at which time he immediately joined the Columbia faculty. He moved to Yale Law School in 1972 and was named the Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and Legal History in 1982.

Cover won the Ames Prize for Justice Accused: Antislavery and the Judicial Process (1975). This book probed the moral dilemma confronting northern judges opposed to slavery on moral grounds who nonetheless believed that the law of antebellum America required them to order fugitive slaves returned to their masters. In addition, Cover coauthored books on procedure and wrote numerous articles about how narrative, myth, and history "invite new worlds" by illuminating the tension between law and the normative worlds we construct.

Cover's pathbreaking work stressed that judicial language is unlike literary language because it involves actual violence, pain, and death. He explored new facets of jurisdiction, law and religion, civil rights, and civil liberties. If a dominant theme emerged in the radically interdisciplinary work of this "anarchist who love[d] law," it was exploration of how law might be a bridge toward the creation of new narratives and better actualities. To Cover, law should involve a conscious quest for a juster justice.

Cover died of a heart attack in 1986.

Aviam Soifer


Memorial Issue 1987 Yale Law Journal 96:1699–1984.