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Avern L. Cohn Papers

Identifier: UP001945

Scope and Content

Part 1 consists of 6 series, with Series 2, 3 and 5 containing subseries. Part 2 consists of 5 series. Part 1-- Series 1: Orders and Opinions by Subject, 1979-2004 (Boxes 1-21).

Series 2: Correspondence, 1940s-2004 (Boxes 22-91). Subseries A: Personal correspondence by date, 1989-2003. Subseries B: General correspondence by date, 1940s-2004. Subseries C: Correspondence by person, alphabetical, 1982-2004. Subseries D: Correspondence by university.

Series 3: Speeches and Writings, 1972-2004 (Boxes 92-135). Subseries A: Legal, judicial, political issues. Subseries B: Judaism, Israel and Jewish community history, law, politics. Subseries C: Personal memoirs, observations on law, court and career, award acceptances. Subseries D: Other, including eulogies, community events, editorials, letters to editors, 1980-2002. Subseries E: Book reviews, including research materials, 1990-2004.

Series 4: Travel Files, 1994-2001 (Boxes 136-137).

Series 5: Subject Files, 1940s-2004 (Boxes 138-285). Subseries A: Personal subject files, 1970s-2004. Subseries B: Subject Files, part one, General, 1940s-2004. Subseries C: Subject Files, part two, General, 1940s-2004.

Series 6: Scrapbooks, 1961-2006 (Boxes 286-302).

Part 2-- Series 1: Correspondence, 2003 (Box 303). Series 2: Speeches and Writings, 1939-2003 (Boxes 304-305). Series 3: Scrapbook Vertical Files, 1962-2003 (Boxes 305-306). Series 4: Court History Files, 1987-1998 (Boxes 306-311). Series 5: Photographs and Audio-Visual Materials, 1943-2011 (Boxes 312-316).


  • 1939 - 2013
  • Majority of material found within 1960 - 2000
  • Majority of material found within 1980 - 2003

Language of Materials

Material entirely in [English].


Collection is open for research, with the exception of Box 313.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials.


Avern Levin Cohn was born in Detroit, Michigan, on July 23, 1924, to Irwin I. and Sadie Levin Cohn. He attended the University of Michigan, John Tarleton Agricultural College, Stanford University, Loyola University School of Medicine, and received a J.D. in 1949 from the University of Michigan. He served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946. He was admitted to the State Bar of Michigan in 1949 and engaged in private law practice in the Law Office of Irwin I. Cohn from 1949 to 1961 and in the firm of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn from 1961 to 1979. Cohn was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on May 17, 1979, and confirmed on September 25, 1979. He took senior status as a judge on October 9, 1999, and retired from the bench in 2019. In 1954 Cohn married Joyce Hochman (deceased 1989); they had three children. He married Lois Pincus in 1992. Judge Cohn was a member of several bar associations and legal organizations, serving on and chairing many boards and special committees, including the Special Committee on Court Congestion, State Bar of Michigan (1977-1978); Representative Assembly, State Bar of Michigan, 1973-1979; director, Detroit Bar Association; trustee, Detroit Bar Association Foundation. Judge Cohn was active in numerous organizations in political, secular and Jewish life. He served on the Michigan Social Welfare Commission, 1963; Michigan Civil Rights Commission, 1972-1974, chair 1974-1975; Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, 1975-1979, chair 1979; Jewish Welfare Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, president 1981-1983; United Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit; and the American Jewish Committee. He was a prolific author on a variety of legal topics and was a noted philanthropist to the University of Michigan and many other educational, secular and religious institutions. Among many honors Cohn received during his career are the Fred M. Butzel Memorial Award for Distinguished Community Service (1988), Honorary Doctor of Law, Detroit College of Law (1998) and the University of Michigan Distinguished Alumni Service Award (2005).


201.25 Linear Feet (297 MB, 2 SB, 17 Oversize)


The materials in this collection represent the scope of Judge Avern Cohn’s professional life and his wide-ranging interests and activities, from family matters to philanthropy to leisure travel. The collection includes correspondence, opinions and orders, speeches and writings, scrapbooks, files on a large array of subjects and some audio-visual materials. In his several decades on the federal bench, Cohn was involved in cases involving a variety of issues including tax law, civil rights, school desegregation, and patents and trademarks. Among his most notable decisions are John Doe v. University of Michigan, which held unconstitutional the university’s speech code; the Kearns patent infringement suit against Ford Motor Company regarding intermittent windshield wipers; the “Jake Baker case,” which involved a student dismissed from the University of Michigan for allegedly putting a pornographic story on the internet; and Bradley v. Milliken, regarding school desegregation. Cohn was a prolific writer of professional articles, as well as of opinion pieces and letters to the editor; his research materials and writings are included here. He was a frequent participant in and speaker at meetings for the legal profession and many other professional groups. His interest in legal education is evidenced from materials reflecting his participation in moot courts, new lawyer seminars and student forums at various law schools including the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and Detroit College of Law. The collection includes Cohn’s wide-ranging correspondence on the local, national and international level with lawyers and judges; politicians and government officials; journalists and publishers; business leaders; religious leaders; and academics. Active participation and leadership in the Jewish community is reflected in the papers. He served in numerous organizations, notably as president of the Jewish Welfare Federation, wrote extensively on Jewish historical subjects and was awarded some of the highest honors for service to the community. Materials relevant to Cohn’s research into family history and genealogy, including correspondence with relatives in France and Israel are included here. Scrapbooks included in this collection were collected and arranged by Judge Cohn and his staff. They provide an overview of his public life from the 1960s through approximately 2014.


Part 1 is arranged in 6 series – Series 1 (Boxes 1-21), Series 2 (Boxes 22-91), Series 3 (Boxes 92-135), Series 4 (Boxes 136-137), Series 5 (Boxes 138-285), Series 6 (Boxes 286-302). Folders in Series 1, 3 and 5 are arranged alphabetically by subject. Folders in Series 2 and 4 are arranged chronologically. Series 6 contains scrapbooks, mostly in chronological order. Original order of documents was preserved within folders, primarily reverse chronological order. Part 2 is arranged in 5 series--Series 1 (Box 303), Series 2 (Boxes 304-305), Series 3 (Boxes 305-306), Series 4 (Boxes 306-311), Series 5 (Boxes 312-316). Folders in Series 1 are arranged in original order. Series 2 is arranged by material type and then chronologically. Series 3 is arranged in chronological order. Series 4 is arranged in original order by year. Series 5 contains photographs and audio-visual materials.


Materials donated by Judge Avern Cohn, 2008, 2013

Related Materials

Collections in the Jewish Community Archives, especially the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit Records and the Jewish Community Council Records. Papers of other federal judges including Judge George C. Edwards, Jr.; Judge Damon J. Keith; Judge Robert E. DeMascio; Judge Wade H. McCree, Jr. The Bradley v. Milliken Desegregation Collections. The papers of prominent local business and community leaders such as Max M. Fisher, Mildred Jeffrey, Mel Ravitz, Leonard N. Simons, Philip Slomovitz, Stanley Winkleman.


Part 1: Two boxes of audiovisual materials (audiotapes, videotapes, DVDs, computer disks) have been placed in the Reuther Library’s audiovisual department (Boxes 315, 316). Several folders of signed correspondence and photographs from U.S. presidents and other international leaders have been moved to the Reuther Library's vault. In most cases, these documents are replaced by photocopies in the collection. Part 2: One box of audio and videotapes and DVDs (Box 313) has been placed in the Reuther Library’s audiovisual department. Access to this box is restricted.

Processing History

Part 1 processed and finding aid written by Aimee Ergas on July 1, 2009. Part 2 processed and finding aid written by Katelyn Jedro on July 12, 2013.
Guide to the Avern L. Cohn Papers
Processed and written by Aimee Ergas.
2009-07-01. Revised October 2020.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA