Avern Cohn’s Legacy as Federal Judge

Federal Judge Avern Cohn recently announced his retirement in December, leaving big shoes to fill.

I had a hard time thinking of an appropriate introduction to this week’s “Looking Back.”

Indeed, to spend time looking backward does not describe someone who has always looked forward. Do we say this person’s retirement announcement means the end of an era? I still doubt his career is truly over, and I am sure he’d admonish me for even having such a thought.

Yet, it will be different in Detroit without Avern L. Cohn on the Federal bench. On Dec. 20, 2019, after four decades of service at the U.S. District Court, Judge Cohn announced he is retiring.

In his statement, Judge Cohn said it “was time to pass on my responsibilities [as a federal judge] … there comes a time in the course of one’s work that they retire and let their work be borne by younger persons.”

This is the course of life for all of us, isn’t it? Nevertheless, the younger judges will have some big shoes to fill. Judge Cohn is nothing short of legendary. Agree with his decisions or not, there is no one who has worked as hard and was willing to tackle the toughest cases. He is known for his intellect, sometimes feared for his temper, but always respected for his work ethic and integrity.

Avern Cohn’s Legacy as Federal Judge

I must provide a disclaimer at this point. I know Judge Cohn and have worked with him many times to preserve his archive and to provide some assistance with research for his historical interests. I can tell you that conversations with the judge are, with-out exception, always interesting, and always a moment of learning. I’m certain my experience is not unique. Judge Cohn has this effect on everyone.

After reviewing Judge Cohn’s archives, as a historian and archivist, I am impressed he has read so voraciously on such a wide range of topics. Sure, Judge Cohn reads whatever legal tracts he needs to study for his work, but he has also developed expertise in many topics of American history and Jewish history, both local and international, to name just several of his interests.

Avern Cohn’s Legacy as Federal Judge

Beyond his work, Judge Cohn has always engaged in community activities, providing support and leadership for numerous civic organizations, including being an original supporter of the Detroit Jewish News Foundation.

Well over 1,000 pages in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Detroit Jewish History have content on Judge Cohn. For the best of historical articles on the judge, see his biography on the Foundation’s website (djnfoundation.org).

It won’t be the same without Judge Avern Cohn presiding at the 6th District Federal Court in Detroit. I personally have benefited from knowing him and have been honored to work with him. I’m sure we’ll still see him at events or writing letters to the editor on a subject dear to his heart — or maybe, just maybe, doing a little bit of rabble-rousing in the city when he sees an injustice or problem to be solved.

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.