Benjamin N. Cardozo

From New World Encyclopedia

Benjamin N. Cardozo
Benjamin N. Cardozo

Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
In office
March 14 1932 – July 9 1938
Nominated by Herbert Hoover
Preceded by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Succeeded by Felix Frankfurter

Born May 24 1870(1870-05-24)
New York City, New York
Died July 9 1938 (aged 68)
Port Chester, New York

Benjamin Nathan Cardozo (May 24, 1870 – July 9, 1938) is a well-known American jurist and a justice on the United States Supreme Court. He is remembered most for his landmark decisions on negligence but also his self effacing modesty, philosophy, and writing style, which is considered remarkable for its prose and vividness. Cardozo is regarded as one of the most influential and respected jurists of the twentieth century. Cardozo was the second person of Jewish descent, after Louis Brandeis, to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Because of his Iberian roots and fluency in Spanish, a few commentators consider him to have been the first Hispanic justice as well, although his family origins were in Portugal rather than Spain. In his years as an Associate Justice, he handed down opinions that stressed the necessity for the law to adapt to the realities and needs of modern life.

The decisions of past jurists and legislators may or may not have been correct at the time but it is universally understood that the law needs to serve society. It needs to face the challenges and issues of the present day, not of the past. At the same time, it needs to have due regard for precedence and for what earlier generations thought was right, just, and moral. Simultaneously, the law allows for flexibility in the light of new information, as human knowledge continues to grow.

Early Life

Cardozo and his twin sister, Emily were born in New York City to Albert and Rebecca Nathan Cardozo. Cardozo's ancestors were Portuguese Jews who immigrated to the United States in the 1740s and 1750s from Portugal via the Netherlands and England. As an adult, Cardozo no longer practiced his faith, but remained proud of his Jewish heritage. The surname Cardozo (Cardoso) is of Portuguese origin. He was a cousin of the Poet Emma Lazarus.

Rebecca Cardozo died in 1879, and Benjamin was raised during much of his childhood by his sister Nell, who was 11 years older. At age 15, Cardozo entered Columbia University and then went 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. His father, Albert Cardozo, was himself a judge on the Supreme Court of New York. He was closely associated with Boss Tweed and he resigned his judgeship just as the New York legislature was laying the groundwork to impeach him.

Benjamin Cardozo left Columbia after only two years, and without a law degree. The law degree and bar examination requirements were not introduced until 1914 and at that time solely for the admission and discipline of attorneys under Judicial Branch of the Federal government. From 1891 until 1914, Cardozo practiced law in New York City. In the November 1913 elections, Cardozo was narrowly elected to the New York Supreme Court. He took office on January 5, 1914. In 1915 Cardozo accepted an honorary degree from Columbia University.


Less than a month after winning the election to the Supreme Court, Cardozo was elevated to the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state. He was the first man of Jewish descent to serve on the Court of Appeals and became Chief Judge on January 1, 1927.

His tenure was marked by a number of original rulings, in tort and contract law in particular. In 1921, Cardozo gave the Storrs Lectures at Yale University, which was later published as The Nature of the Judicial Process, 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.

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 . 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." 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 Coolidge that he should nominate Cardozo rather than himself back in 1925). 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.

He was the second person of Jewish descent, after Louis Brandeis, to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Because of his Iberian roots and fluency in Spanish, a few commentators consider him to have been the first Hispanic Justice as well, although his family origins were in Portugal rather than Spain. In his years as an Associate Justice, he handed down opinions that stressed the necessity for the law to adapt to the realities and needs of modern life.

Famous Opinions

  • Meinhard v. Salmon: concerning fiduciary duty of business partners.
  • Wood v. Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon: was both a minor cause celebre at the time and an influential development in the law of contract consideration.
  • Palsgraf v. Long Island Rail Road Co.: in 1928 was important in the development of the concept of the proximate cause in tort law.
  • MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co.: help signal the end of the law's attachment with privity as a source of duty in products liability.
  • DeCicco v. Schweizer: he approached the issue of third part beneficiary law in a contract for marriage case.
  • Jacob & Youngs v. Kent: he argued expectation damages arising from a breach of contract are limited to the diminuation of the property's value if the undoing of the breach was an economic waste.
  • Cardozo struck a blow for duty in a railway case where boys in New York City were using a poorly fenced off area of the railway as a jumping off point for diving in the river on a hot summer day. In Hynes v. New York Central Railroad Company, 231 N.Y. 229, 131 N.E. 898 (N.Y. 1921) he held that the defendant railway owed a duty of care despite the victims being trespassers.
  • Berkey v. Third Avenue Railway, 244 N.Y. 84 (1926): Cardozo pierced the corporate veil saying that the parent subsidiary relationship is a legal metaphor: The whole problem of the relation between parent and subsidiary corporations is one that is still enveloped in the mists of metaphor. Metaphors in law are to be narrowly watched, for starting as devices to liberate thought, they end often by enslaving it. We say at times that the corporate entity will be ignored when the parent corporation operates a business through a subsidiary which is characterized as an 'alias' or a 'dummy.'... Dominion may be so complete, interference so obtrusive, that by the general rules of agency the parent will be a principal and the subsidiary an agent. (pp. 93–94)
  • Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan: dissenting from a narrow interpretation of the Commerce Clause.
  • Palko v. Connecticut: rationalized the Court's previous holdings incorporating specific portions of the Bill of Rights against the states via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as declaring that the due process clause incorporated those rights which were "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty." Though Palko's result was overturned in 1969's Benton v. Maryland, Cardozo's analysis of the Due Process Clause has never been displaced.
  • Welch v. Helvering: concerning Internal Revenue Code Section 162 and the meaning of "ordinary" business deductions.


In late 1937, Cardozo had a heart attack, and in early 1938, he suffered a stroke. He died on July 9, 1938, at 68 years old and was buried in Beth-Olom Cemetery in Brooklyn. His death came at a time of much transition for the court, as many of the other Supreme Court justices died or retired during the late 1930s and early 1940s.

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.

Cardozo was referred to as a member of the Three Musketeers who along with Brandeis and Stone, was considered to be the liberal faction of the Supreme Court.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Abraham, Henry Julian, and Henry Julian Abraham. Justices, Presidents, and Senators A History of the U.S. Supreme Court Appointments from Washington to Clinton. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999. ISBN 9780847696055
  • Kaufman, Andrew L. Cardozo. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998. ISBN 9780674096455
  • Posner, Richard A. Cardozo A Study in Reputation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. ISBN 9780226675558

External links

All links retrieved September 28, 2023.

Preceded by:
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
March 14, 1932 – July 9, 1938
Succeeded by:
Felix Frankfurter
The Hughes Court Seal of the U.S. Supreme Court
1932–1937: W. Van Devanter | J.C. McReynolds | L.D. Brandeis | Geo. Sutherland | P. Butler | H.F. Stone | O.J. Roberts | B.N. Cardozo
1937–1938: J.C. McReynolds | L.D. Brandeis | Geo. Sutherland | P. Butler | H.F. Stone | O.J. Roberts | B.N. Cardozo | H. Black
1938: J.C. McReynolds | L.D. Brandeis | P. Butler | H.F. Stone | O.J. Roberts | B.N. Cardozo | H. Black | S.F. Reed


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