Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cardozo: Hispanic?

Some may consider Benjamin Cardozo, shown in 1936, the first Hispanic justice.

While most people may believe Sonia Sotomayor is poised to become the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court, there has been a rich under-the-radar debate for years as to whether the court had already had a Hispanic justice.

A stretch?

Several people have suggested that Justice Benjamin Cardozo might properly hold the title of the court’s first Hispanic justice. Prof. Andrew Kaufman of the Harvard Law School, who is the author of a 1998 biography of Cardozo, said the debate was esoteric, complicated and, perhaps above all, amusing.


“Was Cardozo Hispanic?” Professor Kaufman asked, noting that the assertion has been prevalent on Web sites and in articles for years. “Well, I think he regarded himself as a Sephardic Jew whose ancestors came from the Iberian Peninsula.”

The executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Arturo Vargas, said the contemporary political definition of Hispanic in the United States would definitely not include Cardozo. The practical definition he uses, Mr. Vargas said, includes people who are “descended from countries in the Americas” with a Spanish-language heritage. It does not even include those from Spain itself, he said.

A right-wing commentator appearing on the News Hour discussion of Judge Sotomayor yesterday asserted that Cardozo was the first Hispanic justice, clearly an attempt to defang the effect of President Obama's nomination of Judge Sotomayor.

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