Dissing Benjamin Cardozo?


Who says that Sonia Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic member of the U.S. Supreme Court?

From the initial New Yok Times report on President Obama’s choice:

Indeed, in nominating the first Hispanic justice, Mr. Obama may appeal to a large and growing constituency whose party loyalty is still very much in play. Hispanic groups have expressed excitement about the idea of one of their own serving on the high court. (Some scholars argue whether Benjamin Cardozo was really the first Hispanic justice, but with his Portuguese-Jewish background, he never identified himself as a Hispanic.)

UPDATE: The Times has a full sidebar on the issue in Wednesday’s paper:

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. … “Well, I think he regarded himself as a Sephardic Jew whose ancestors came from the Iberian Peninsula.”

He said the term “Hispanic” was not commonly used during Cardozo’s lifetime and would probably have been unfamiliar to him in 1932 when President Herbert Hoover named him to the court, where he served for six years until his death. …

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.

The Volokh Conspiracy has more:

It’s possible that the answer to this question is "no." Justice Benjamin Cardozo was a descendant of Spanish or Portuguese Jews who immigrated to America, and took great pride in his Sephardic Jewish identity. For details, see Andrew Kaufman’s excellent biography of Cardozo.

That said, ethnic identity is largely a social construct. So I can understand if Hispanics today take special pride in Sotomayor’s appointment because she would be the first justice whose parents were recent arrivals from Latin America. Like many racial or ethnic classifications, "Hispanic" is a somewhat arbitrary label. It includes widely divergent groups such as Brazilians and Mexicans, while sometimes being used in a way that excludes Spanish and Portuguese immigrants and their descendants (including Cardozo)….

The issue is also being debated over at Half Sigma:

Sonia Sotomayor, Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, is being billed as the first Hispanic Justice, but clearly under the definition of Hispanic, “persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Central or South American, or others Spanish or Portuguese culture or origin, regardless of race,” Benjamin Cardozo, whose surname is Portuguese, was the first Hispanic Justice.

Everyone says that Bill Richardson is an Hispanic governor, and I don’t see how Bill Richardson is any more Hispanic than Benjamin Cardozo….

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