Several speeches followed the unveiling of a portrait of Cox, honoring his contributions to HLS as a professor and to the U.S. as a government official.
Although unveiled on an easel, the portrait—featuring Cox’s famously bushy-eyebrows and trademark red bow-tie—will eventually hang in a HLS classroom that has yet to be determined.
In his more than 40-year professional career, Cox was a leading scholar on labor and constitutional issues and used his expertise while serving in several levels of government.
In 1973, Cox was hired—and fired—as Special Prosecutor in the Watergate affair after pressing then-President Richard M. Nixon to comply with a court order to hand tapes over to a judge.
After Attorney General Elliot Richardson ’41 and his top deputy both refused to fire Cox, all three were ultimately sacked in a chain of events widely known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”
But in his six-month term, Cox developed a national reputation as a figure of uncompromising principles.
“I think [Cox] certainly represents the ideals that we at HLS should aspire to—gifted, public-spirited, extremely hard-working, and idealistic in a pragmatic way,” said Robert H. Mnookin ’64, Williston professor of law.
HLS Dean Elena Kagan concurred.
“We’re here to talk about lawyers performing public service—which is what Archie Cox has done all his life,” she said.
Previous to his work on Watergate, Cox, a leading labor economist, was chairman of the Wage Stabilization Board in Harry S Truman’s administration.
Cox then served as solicitor general, the attorney representing the U.S. government, from 1961-1965, arguing and offering advice on numerous major cases concerning voter rights and affirmative action.
As head of the “Cox Commission,” an ad-hoc panel on judicial reform, he made recommendations for the restructuring of Massachusetts state courts.
In addition to praising Cox’s record, Kagan and other HLS officials also used the event to affirm and emphasize their commitment to and encouragement of public service programs.
Last year, HLS instituted pro-bono or underpaid legal service requirements for students, in an effort to have students give something back to the community.
Professor Carol Steiker, the dean’s special adviser on public service, said she wanted to debunk the misconception that career advancement and public service are mutually exclusive.
“It was incredible to see this living legend,” said first-year law student Jennifer Carter.
And the sentiment was not contained to students.
“Like everyone else, Archie, you’re a hero to me,” Kagan said.