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Benjamin Cardozo

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Benjamin Cardozo

Benjamin N. Cardozo
Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
In office
March 2, 1932[1] – July 9, 1938
Nominated by Herbert Hoover
Preceded by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Succeeded by Felix Frankfurter
Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals
In office
January 1, 1927 – March 7, 1932
Preceded by Frank H. Hiscock
Succeeded by Cuthbert W. Pound
Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals
In office
February 1914 – December 31, 1926
Personal details
Born Benjamin Nathan Cardozo
(1870-05-24)May 24, 1870
New York City, New York
Died July 9, 1938(1938-07-09) (aged 68)
Port Chester, New York

Benjamin Nathan Cardozo (May 24, 1870 – July 9, 1938) was an American jurist who served on the New York Court of Appeals and later as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Cardozo is remembered for his significant influence on the development of American common law in the 20th century, in addition to his modesty, philosophy, and vivid prose style. Cardozo served on the Supreme Court only six years, from 1932 until his death in 1938, and many of his landmark decisions were delivered during his eighteen-year tenure on the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court of that state.

Life and career

Cardozo was born in New York City, the son of Rebecca Washington (née Nathan) and Albert Jacob Cardozo.[2] Both Cardozo's maternal grandparents, Sara Seixas and Isaac Mendes Seixas Nathan, and his paternal grandparents, Ellen Hart and Michael H. Cardozo, were Sephardi Jews of the Portuguese Jewish community, affiliated with Manhattan's Congregation Shearith Israel; their families emigrated from England before the American Revolution, and were descended from Jews who left the Iberian Peninsula for Holland during the Inquisition.[2] Cardozo family tradition held that their ancestors were Marranos from Portugal,[2] although Cardozo's ancestry has not been firmly traced to Portugal.[3] "Cardozo" (archaic spelling of Cardoso), "Seixas" and "Mendes" are common Portuguese surnames.

Benjamin Cardozo was a twin with his sister Emily. He was a cousin of the poet Emma Lazarus. He was named for his uncle, Benjamin Nathan, a vice president of the New York Stock Exchange and the victim of a 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 he was implicated in a judicial corruption scandal, sparked by the Erie Railway takeover wars, in 1868. The scandal led to the creation of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and Albert's resignation from the bench. After leaving the court, he practiced law until his death in 1885.

Early years

Rebecca Cardozo died in 1879 when Benjamin was young. He was raised during much of his childhood by his sister Nell, who was 11 years older. One of his 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. When Cardozo entered Columbia Law School, the program was only two years long; in the midst of his studies, however, the faculty voted to extend the program to three years. Cardozo declined to stay for an extra year, and thus left law school without a law degree.[7] He passed the bar in 1891 and began practicing appellate law alongside his older brother.[5] Benjamin Cardozo practiced law in New York City until 1914.[5] 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 Appeals

In February 1914, Cardozo was designated to the New York Court of Appeals under the Amendment of 1899,[8] and reportedly was 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

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.[9][10][11][12]

United States Supreme Court

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."[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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".[16] 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).[17] 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.[18][19][20] His death came at a time of much transition for the court, as many of the other justices died or retired during the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Personal life

As an adult, Cardozo no longer practiced his faith (he identified himself as an agnostic), but remained proud of his Jewish heritage.[21]

Of the six children born to Albert and Rebecca Cardozo, only Emily, his twin sister, 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 New York Times Book Review of Richard Polenberg's book on Cardozo:


Andrew Kaufman, a Harvard Law School professor and Cardozo biographer, notes that "Although one cannot be absolutely certain, it seems highly likely that Cardozo lived a celibate life." Judge Learned Hand is quoted in the book as saying about Cardozo: "He [had] no trace of homosexuality anyway."[22]

The question of Cardozo's ethnicity

Cardozo was the second Jew, after Louis Brandeis, to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Since Cardozo was a member of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community, there has been recent discussion as to whether he should be considered the 'first Hispanic justice,' a notion which is controversial.[23][24][25]

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.”[26]

It has also been asserted that Cardozo himself "confessed in 1937 that his family preserved neither the Spanish language nor Iberian cultural traditions".[27] Some 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.[23][26]


New York Courts
  • Schloendorff v. Society of New York Hospital, 105 N.E. 92 (1914) it is necessary to get informed consent from a patient before operation, but a non-profit hospital was not vicariously liable (the latter aspect was reversed in 1957)
  • MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., 111 N.E. 1050 (1916) ending privity as a source of duty in products liability, ruling that manufacturers of products could be held liable for injuries to consumers.
  • DeCicco v. Schweizer, 117 N.E. 807 (1917) where Cardozo approached the issue of third party beneficiary law in a contract for marriage case.
  • Wood v. Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon, 118 N.E. 214 (1917) on an implied promise to do something constituting consideration in a contract.
  • Martin v. Herzog, 126 N.E. 814 (1920) breach of statutory duty establishes negligence, and the elements of the claim includes proof of causation
  • Jacob & Youngs v. Kent, 230 N.Y. 239 (1921), substantial performance of a contract does not lead to a right to terminate, only damages.
  • Hynes v. New York Central Railroad Company, 131 N.E. 898 (1921), a railway owed a duty of care despite the victims being trespassers.
  • Berkey v. Third Avenue Railway, 244 N.Y. 84 (1926), the corporate veil cannot be pierced, even in favor of a tort victim unless domination of a subsidiary by the parent is complete.
  • Wagner v. International Railway, 232 N.Y. 176 (1926) the rescue doctrine. "Danger invites rescue. The cry of distress is the summons to relief [...] The emergency begets the man. The wrongdoer may not have foreseen the coming of a deliverer. He is accountable as if he had."
  • Meinhard v. Salmon, 164 N.E. 545 (1928) the fiduciary duty of business partners is, "Not honesty alone, but the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive."
  • Palsgraf v. Long Island Rail Road Co., 162 N.E. 99 (1928) the development of the concept of the proximate cause in tort law.
  • Jessie Schubert v. August Schubert Wagon Company, 164 N.E. 42 (1929) Respondeat Superior and spousal immunity relationship are not related.
  • Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Park, 166 N.E. 173 (1929) denied a right to recover for knee injury from riding "The Flopper" funride since the victim "assumed the risk."
  • Ultramares v. Touche, 174 N.E. 441 (1931) on the limitation of liability of auditors
US Supreme Court

In his own words

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.


Schools, organizations, and buildings named after Cardozo


See also


Further reading

External links

  • Federal Judicial Center.
  • Project Gutenberg
  • Find A Grave.
  • Benjamin Cardozo at Michael
  • Supreme Court Historical Society.
  • New York Court of Appeals judge at Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York.
  • U.S. Supreme Court media, Benjamin N. Cardozo.
Legal offices
Preceded by
Frank H. Hiscock
Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals
Succeeded by
Cuthbert W. Pound
Preceded by
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Felix Frankfurter

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