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Benjamin Nathan Cardozo (May 24, 1870 – July 9, 1938) was an American lawyer and jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Previously, he had served as the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals. Cardozo is remembered for his significant influence on the development of American common law in the 20th century, in addition to his philosophy and vivid prose style.

Benjamin N. Cardozo
Benjamin Cardozo.jpg
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
March 2, 1932 – July 9, 1938[1]
Nominated byHerbert Hoover
Preceded byOliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Succeeded byFelix Frankfurter
Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals
In office
January 1, 1927 – March 7, 1932
Preceded byFrank Hiscock
Succeeded byCuthbert Pound
Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals
In office
January 15, 1917 – December 31, 1926
Preceded bySamuel Seabury
Succeeded byJohn F. O'Brien
Justice of the Supreme Court of New York for the First Judicial Division
In office
January 5, 1914 – January 15, 1917 (Sitting by designation in the Court of Appeals from February 2, 1914)
Preceded byBartow S. Weeks
Succeeded bySamuel H. Ordway
Personal details
Benjamin Nathan Cardozo

(1870-05-24)May 24, 1870
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedJuly 9, 1938(1938-07-09) (aged 68)
Port Chester, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
FatherAlbert Cardozo
EducationColumbia University (BA, MA)

Born in New York City, Cardozo passed the bar in 1891 after attending Columbia Law School. He won an election to the New York Supreme Court in 1913 but joined the New York Court of Appeals the following year. He won election as Chief Judge of that court in 1926. In 1932, President Herbert Hoover appointed Cardozo to the Supreme Court to succeed Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Cardozo served on the Court until 1938, and formed part of the liberal bloc of justices known as the Three Musketeers. He wrote the Court's majority opinion in notable cases such as Nixon v. Condon and Steward Machine Co. v. Davis.


Early life and familyEdit

Cardozo, the son of Rebecca Washington (née Nathan) and Albert Jacob Cardozo,[2] was born in 1870 in New York City. Both Cardozo's maternal grandparents, Sara Seixas and Isaac Mendes Seixas Nathan, and his paternal grandparents, Ellen Hart and Michael H. Cardozo, were Western Sephardim of the Portuguese Jewish community, affiliated with Manhattan's Congregation Shearith Israel; their families emigrated from London, England before the American Revolution.

The family were descended from Jewish-origin New Christian conversos who left the Iberian Peninsula for Holland during the Inquisition,[2] after which they returned to Judaism. Cardozo family tradition held that their marrano (New Christians who maintained crypto-Jewish practices in secrecy) ancestors were from Portugal,[2] although Cardozo's ancestry has not been firmly traced to Portugal.[3] However, "Cardozo" (archaic spelling of Cardoso), "Seixas" and "Mendes" are the Portuguese, rather than Spanish, spelling of those common Iberian surnames.

Benjamin Cardozo was a twin with his sister Emily. They had a total of four siblings, including an older sister and brother. One of many cousins was the poet Emma Lazarus; another was the preacher, politician, and teacher Francis Lewis Cardozo. Benjamin was named for his uncle, Benjamin Nathan, a vice president of the New York Stock Exchange and the victim of a noted famous unsolved murder case in 1870.[4]

Albert Cardozo, Benjamin Cardozo's father, was a judge on the Supreme Court of New York (the state's general trial court) until 1868, when he was implicated in a judicial corruption scandal, sparked by the Erie Railway takeover wars. The scandal led to the creation of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and his father's resignation from the bench. After leaving the court, he practiced law for nearly two decades more until his death in 1885. Rebecca Cardozo died in 1879 when Benjamin and Emily were young. The twins were raised during much of their childhood by their older sister Nell, who was 11 years older. One of Benjamin's tutors was Horatio Alger.[5]


At age 15, Cardozo entered Columbia University[5] where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa,[6] and then went on to Columbia Law School in 1889. Cardozo wanted to enter a profession that could materially aid himself and his siblings, but he also hoped to restore the family name, sullied by his father's actions as a judge. Cardozo left law school after two years without a law degree.[7][8]


Cardozo passed the bar in 1891 and began practicing appellate law alongside his older brother.[5]

Benjamin Cardozo practiced law in New York City until year-end 1913 with Simpson, Warren and Cardozo.[5][9]

In November 1913, Cardozo was narrowly elected to a 14-year term on the New York Supreme Court, taking office on January 1, 1914.

New York Court of AppealsEdit

In February 1914, Cardozo was designated to the New York Court of Appeals under the Amendment of 1899,[10] and was reportedly the first Jew to serve on the Court of Appeals. In January 1917, he was appointed to a regular seat on the Court of Appeals to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Samuel Seabury, and in November 1917, he was elected on the Democratic and Republican tickets to a 14-year term on the Court of Appeals. In 1926, he was elected, on both tickets again, to a 14-year term as Chief Judge. He took office on January 1, 1927, and resigned on March 7, 1932 to accept an appointment to the United States Supreme Court.

His tenure was marked by a number of original rulings, in tort and contract law in particular. This is partly due to timing; rapid industrialization was forcing courts to look anew at old common law components to adapt to new settings.[5] In 1921, Cardozo gave the Storrs Lectures at Yale University, which were later published as The Nature of the Judicial Process (On line version), a book that remains valuable to judges today. Shortly thereafter, Cardozo became a member of the group that founded the American Law Institute, which crafted a Restatement of the Law of Torts, Contracts, and a host of other private law subjects. He wrote three other books that also became standards in the legal world.[5]

While on the Court of Appeals, he criticized the Exclusionary rule as developed by the federal courts, and stated that: "The criminal is to go free because the constable has blundered." He noted that many states had rejected the rule, but suggested that the adoption by the federal courts would affect the practice in the sovereign states.[11][12][13][14]

United States Supreme CourtEdit

Justice Cardozo in his robes
Cardozo's Supreme Court nomination

In 1932, President Herbert Hoover appointed Cardozo to the Supreme Court of the United States to succeed Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. The New York Times said of Cardozo's appointment that "seldom, if ever, in the history of the Court has an appointment been so universally commended."[15] Democratic Cardozo's appointment by a Republican president has been referred to as one of the few Supreme Court appointments in history not motivated by partisanship or politics, but strictly based on the nominee's contribution to law.[16] However, Hoover was running for re-election, eventually against Franklin Roosevelt, so a larger political calculation may have been operating.

Cardozo was confirmed by a unanimous voice vote in the Senate on February 24.[17] On a radio broadcast on March 1, 1932, the day of Cardozo's confirmation, Clarence C. Dill, Democratic Senator for Washington, called Hoover's appointment of Cardozo "the finest act of his career as President".[18] The entire faculty of the University of Chicago Law School had urged Hoover to nominate him, as did the deans of the law schools at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. Justice Harlan Fiske Stone strongly urged Hoover to name Cardozo, even offering to resign to make room for him if Hoover had his heart set on someone else (Stone had in fact suggested to Calvin Coolidge that he should nominate Cardozo rather than himself back in 1925).[19] Hoover, however, originally demurred: there were already two justices from New York, and a Jew on the court; in addition, Justice James McReynolds was a notorious anti-Semite. When the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, William E. Borah of Idaho, added his strong support for Cardozo, however, Hoover finally bowed to the pressure.

Cardozo was a member of the Three Musketeers along with Brandeis and Stone, which was considered to be the liberal faction of the Supreme Court. In his years as an Associate Justice, he handed down opinions that stressed the necessity for the tightest adherence to the Tenth Amendment.


In late 1937, Cardozo had a heart attack, and in early 1938, he suffered a stroke. He died on July 9, 1938, at the age of 68 and was buried in Beth Olam Cemetery in Queens.[20][21]


Cardozo received the honorary degree of LL.D. from several colleges and universities, including: Columbia (1915); Yale (1921); New York (1922); Michigan (1923); Harvard (1927); St. John's (1928); St. Lawrence (1932); Williams (1932); Princeton (1932); Pennsylvania (1932); Brown (1933); and Chicago (1933).[22]

Personal lifeEdit

Cardozo had an apartment in this building in Washington, D.C.

As an adult, Cardozo no longer practiced his faith (he identified himself as an agnostic), but remained proud of his Jewish heritage.[23]

Of the six children born to Albert and Rebecca Cardozo, only his twin sister Emily married, and she and her husband did not have any children. As far as is known, Benjamin Cardozo led a celibate life. The fact that Cardozo was unmarried and was personally tutored by the writer Horatio Alger (who had been accused of inappropriate sexual relations with young boys) has led some of Cardozo's biographers to insinuate that Cardozo was homosexual, but no real evidence exists to corroborate this possibility. Constitutional law scholar Jeffrey Rosen noted in a The New York Times Book Review of Richard Polenberg's book on Cardozo:

Polenberg describes Cardozo's lifelong devotion to his older sister Nell, with whom he lived in New York until her death in 1929. When asked why he had never married, Cardozo replied, quietly and sadly, "I never could give Nellie the second place in my life."

The question of Cardozo's ethnicityEdit

Cardozo was the second Jewish justice to be appointed to the Supreme Court, the first being Louis Brandeis.

Cardozo was a member of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community. Since the appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor there has been discussion as to whether he should be considered the 'first Hispanic justice,' although in 1492 the Spanish Crown expelled resident Jews who would not convert, and persecuted some who did.[24][25][26]

In response to this controversy, Cardozo biographer Kaufman questioned the usage of the term "Hispanic" in the justice's lifetime, stating: "Well, I think he regarded himself as a Sephardic Jew whose ancestors came from the Iberian Peninsula."[27] It has also been asserted that Cardozo himself "confessed in 1937 that his family preserved neither the Spanish language nor Iberian cultural traditions".[28] Ancestors had lived in English-speaking countries since the 17th century.

Some Latino advocacy groups, such as the National Association of Latino Elected Officials and the Hispanic National Bar Association, consider Sonia Sotomayor to be the first Hispanic justice.[24][27]


New York Courts
US Supreme Court

In his own wordsEdit

Cardozo's opinion of himself shows some of the same flair as his legal opinions:

In truth, I am nothing but a plodding mediocrity—please observe, a plodding mediocrity—for a mere mediocrity does not go very far, but a plodding one gets quite a distance. There is joy in that success, and a distinction can come from courage, fidelity and industry.[29]

Schools, organizations, and buildings named after Cardozo


  • Cardozo, Benjamin N. (1921), The Nature of the Judicial Process, The Storrs Lectures Delivered at Yale University.
  • Cardozo, Benjamin N. (1928). The Paradoxes of Legal Science. Columbia University.
  • Cardozo, Benjamin N. (1889), The Altruist in Politics, commencement oration at Columbia College, Gutenberg Project version.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Federal Judicial Center: Benjamin Cardozo". 2009-12-12. Archived from the original on 2009-05-14. Retrieved 2009-12-12.
  2. ^ a b c Kaufman, Andrew L. (1998). Cardozo. Harvard University Press. pp. 6–9. ISBN 0-674-09645-2.
  3. ^ Mark Sherman, 'First Hispanic justice? Some say it was Cardozo', The Associated Press, 2009.
  4. ^ Pearson, Edmund L. "The Twenty-Third Street Murder". Studies in Murder. Ohio State University Press. pp. 123–164. ISBN 081425022X.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Christopher L. Tomlins (2005). The United States Supreme Court. Houghton Mifflin. p. 467. ISBN 978-0-618-32969-4. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  6. ^ Supreme Court Justices Who Are Phi Beta Kappa Members Archived 2011-09-28 at the Wayback Machine, Phi Beta Kappa website, accessed Oct 4, 2009
  7. ^ Levy, Beryl Harold (November 2007). "Realist Jurisprudence and Prospective Overruling". New York Review of Books. LIV (17): 10, n. 31.
  8. ^ "Cardozo, Benjamin N". Great American Judges: An Encyclopedia. 155: ABC-CLIO. 2003.
  9. ^ Pollak, Louis H. (2009). "Pollak, Walter Heilprin (1887–1941)". In Newman, Roger K. (ed.). The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law. Yale University Press. p. 430. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  10. ^ Designation in NYT on February 3, 1914
  11. ^ People of the State of New York v. John Defore, 150 N.E. 585 (1926).
  12. ^ Stagg, Tom, Judge, United States District Court Western District of Louisiana (July 15, 1991). "Letter to the Editor". The New York Times. Shreveport, La. Retrieved January 7, 2013.
  13. ^ Spence, Karl (2006). "Fair or Foul? Exclusionary rule hurts the innocent by protecting the guilty". Yo! Liberals! You Call This Progress?. Converse, Texas: Chattanooga Free Press/Fielding Press. ISBN 0976682605. Retrieved January 7, 2013. ISBN 978-0976682608.
  14. ^ Polenberg, Richard. The World of Benjamin Cardozo: Personal Values and the Judicial Process. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 203–207. ISBN 0674960521. Retrieved January 13, 2012.[permanent dead link] ISBN 978-0674960527
  15. ^ "Cardozo is named to Supreme Court". The New York Times. 1932-02-16.
  16. ^ James Taranto, Leonard Leo (2004). Presidential Leadership. Wall Street Journal Books. ISBN 978-0-7432-7226-1. Retrieved 2008-10-20.
  17. ^ (The New York Times, February 25, 1932, p. 1)
  18. ^ (The New York Times, March 2, 1932, p. 13)
  19. ^ (Handler, 1995)
  20. ^ "Christensen, George A. (1983) Here Lies the Supreme Court: Gravesites of the Justices, Yearbook". Archived from the original on 2005-09-03. Retrieved 2013-11-24.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) Supreme Court Historical Society at Internet Archive.
  21. ^ See also, Christensen, George A., Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited, Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17 – 41 (19 Feb 2008), University of Alabama.
  22. ^ Death Notices: Supplement to General Alumni Catalog. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan. 1939. p. 16.
  23. ^ Benjamin Cardozo., Jewish Virtual Library,
  24. ^ a b "'Cardozo was first, but was he Hispanic?,' USA Today, May 27, 2009". May 27, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-02.
  25. ^ "Mark Sherman, 'First Hispanic Justice? Some Say It Was Cardozo,' Associated Press May 26, 2009". Archived from the original on August 21, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-02.
  26. ^ "Robert Schlesinger, Would Sotomayor be the First Hispanic Supreme Court Justice or Was it Cardozo? US News & World Report May 29, 2009".
  27. ^ a b "Neil A. Lewis, 'Was a Hispanic Justice on the Court in the '30s?,' The New York Times, May 26, 2009". The New York Times. May 27, 2009. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  28. ^ Aviva Ben-Ur, "East Meets West: Sephardic Strangers and Kin," Sephardic Jews in America: A Diasporic History (New York: New York University Press, 2009), p. 86.
  29. ^ As quoted in Nine Old Men (1936) by Drew Pearson and Robert Sharon Allen, p. 221.
  30. ^ * * * Benjamin N. Cardozo Lodge at

Further readingEdit

External video
  Presentation by Andrew L. Kaufman on Cardozo, June 14, 1998, C-SPAN

External linksEdit