Robert Cover

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Robert Cover (July 30, 1943 – July 1986) was a law professor, scholar, and activist, teaching at Yale Law School from 1972 until his untimely death at age 42 in 1986. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1943. He attended Princeton University and Columbia Law School. His most noted works include Justice Accused: Antislavery and the Judicial Process, "Violence and the Word," and "Nomos and Narrative." He lent his strong support to the campaign to divest Yale of apartheid South African financial holdings. He was also interested in Jewish social and legal history, and was translating a renaissance Hebrew text on the law of jurisdiction at the time of his death. Prior to his death from heart problems, many friends and colleagues speculated that, given his extraordinary success at such a young age, he would one day be considered for the Supreme Court.

In his most famous article, "Violence and the Word", he writes that "Legal interpretation takes place in a field of pain and death. This is true in several senses. Legal interpretive acts signal and occasion the imposition of violence upon others: A judge articulates her understanding of a text, and as a result, somebody loses his freedom, his property, his children, even his life. Interpretations in law also constitute justifications for violence which has already occurred or which is about to occur. When interpreters have finished their work, they frequently leave behind victims whose lives have been torn apart by these organized, social practices of violence. Neither legal interpretation nor the violence it occasions may be properly understood apart from one another".[1]

This article has inspired many discussions on the relationship between law, language and violence. A Hebrew translation of Nomos and Narrative was published in book form by Shalem Press in 2012.[2]

He also published the brief "Your Law Baseball Quiz" on the New York Times editorial page on April 5, 1979, amusingly and insightfully comparing Supreme Court Justices to baseball players. It spawned an underground cottage industry of law-baseball and law-other metaphorical devices that still persists. That piece can be found at the end of a collection of his essays titled Narrative, Violence, and the Law: The Essays of Robert Cover published in 1995 by the University of Michigan Press.


  1. ^ Yale Law Journal, Vol. 95, No. 8, July 1986 at p. 1601
  2. ^

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