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FELIX S. COHEN (1907-1953)

Biography Source:


Felix Solomon Cohen was a lawyer with special interest in natural resources, in statehood and economic development for American territories, in Indian affairs, and in immigration and minority problems. He was a professor of jurisprudence, a civil servant, and an author of numerous articles on law, ethics, and philosophy, on Native Americans and minorities, and on human and natural resources. From 1933 through 1947 he served in the Solicitor's Office of the Interior Department as an assistant solicitor, associate solicitor, and acting solicitor. He also served as chairman of the Office's Board of Appeals. Cohen drafted the Wheeler-Howard Act (later known as the Indian Reorganization Act) of 1934, and contributed to the department's handling of Indian and Eskimo aboriginal rights. In 1939 Cohen was named Chief of the Indian Law Survey, a joint project of the Lands Division of the Department of Justice and of the Department of Interior to compile all federal laws, treaties, etc., involving Native Americans. Cohen edited a summary of the 46-volume survey, which was published by the Interior Department asThe Handbook of Federal Indian Law and remains a milestone in the evolution of Indian law. He received the Department's highest honor--the Distinguished Service Award--on retirement from government service in 1948.

Cohen re-entered private general law practice in January 1948, but continued to be interested in the legal affairs of Native Americans and immigrants, in human rights, and in natural resources. He eventually associated his Washington, D.C. office with the New York law firm of Riegelman, Strasser, Schwarz & Spiegelberg (which later became known in Washington as Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Kampelman). Cohen handled several importantpro bono Indian cases, particularly lawsuits which established Native Americans' rights to vote (in the last two states that had denied the franchise to them--New Mexico and Arizona), and to receive Social Security benefits in states that denied them such legal rights.

In 1946, Cohen had begun teaching legislative drafting and legal philosophy at Yale University's Law School, and jurisprudence at The City College of New York's Department of Philosophy. Cohen had also taught at the New School for School Research and the University of Newark Law School (later Rutgers Law School). In 1951 he publishedReadings in Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy, the syllabus which he developed with his father, Morris R. Cohen, for both their jurisprudence courses (Morris Cohen at St. John's Law School and Felix Cohen at Rutgers and the New School for Social Research).

Felix S. Cohen was born in Manhattan, but grew up in Yonkers, New York. He attended The City College of New York, received an M.A. in philosophy from Harvard in 1927 and a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1929. In 1928 Cohen entered Columbia Law School, graduating in 1931. He married Lucy M. Kramer that year; they had two daughters. He died at his home in Washington, D.C., in October 1953. Additional biographical detail can be gleaned from other material in Series V of this collection. Box 91, folder 1469 contains a brief biography of Felix S. Cohen by his wife.