Friday, July 8, 2016

Benjamin Cardozo

When Benjamin Cardozo (May 24, 1870 - July 9, 1938) was nominated to the United States Supreme Court, the New York Times felt it newsworthy to note the rarity of having a nominee so universally approved. In fact, Cardozo was a Democrat appointed by a Republican President. Most importantly, he was a man who demonstrated great care with the law.

Cardozo, who was one of six children, chose a career in law even though his own father, Albert, had been forced to resign from the bench due to a political association with Tammany Hall. Noted for his bright mind, Cardozo entered Columbia University at the age of 15 and stayed there through law school. He immediately entered his father’s law firm and quickly made a name for himself in commercial law. In 1913, he was elected to the New York Supreme Court, where he sat only briefly as he was chosen shortly thereafter to join the New York Court of Appeals as Chief Judge. Cardozo’s Supreme Court nomination came in 1932. He was unanimously approved and served until his death six years later.

Cardozo was the second Jew appointed to the Supreme Court, and served alongside his co-religionist Louis Brandeis. While not particularly observant, he was highly involved in Jewish causes and philanthropic endeavors. He was a member of the Judean Club and served on the board of the American Jewish Committee. Cardozo had mixed feelings about the emerging Zionist movement, but eventually agreed to join the Zionist Organization of America because to not do so would appear as if he opposed the movement. Cardozo had deep roots in American Jewish history. His maternal great-grandfather, Benjamin Mendes Seixas, was one of the founders of the New York Stock Exchange, and he was a cousin of Emma Lazarus. He was a life-long member of New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel.

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