Benjamin Cardozo

Benjamin Cardozo Biography

Supreme Court Justice, Judge, Journalist, Lawyer (1870–1938)
Benjamin Cardozo was a 1930s Supreme Court justice who helped shape pioneering, enduring legal frameworks. He was appointed to the Court by Herbert Hoover.


Born on May 24, 1870, in New York City, Benjamin Cardozo became an expert in commercial law before being appointed to the New York Court of Appeals, where he had a lauded, two-decade tenure. He was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Herbert Hoover in 1932, later supporting President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal initiatives. Known for his gentle spirit, Cardozo died on July 9, 1938, in Port Chester, New York.

Background and Education

Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, of Sephardic Jewish/Spanish-Portuguese heritage, was born in New York City on May 24, 1870, to Rebecca Nathan and Albert Cardozo. Cardozo's father was a New York Supreme Court judge who resigned amidst scandal. The young Cardozo, having received private tutelage from writer Horatio Alger, enrolled at Columbia College at the age of 15, earning his bachelor's degree in four years, receiving a master's in political science a year later, and then enrolling at and graduating from Columbia Law School.

New York Court of Appeals

As an attorney, Benjamin Cardozo became a recognized, revered expert in commercial law. He was elected in 1913 to the New York Supreme Court, but only a few weeks later was chosen to become a temporary judge for the New York Court of Appeals. Hence he began an esteemed run on the court, taking on a permanent post and becoming chief judge in the mid-1920s.

Cardozo's time with the Court of Appeals was lauded for the caliber of its jurisprudence. He was a key figure in the 1916 automobile case of Macpherson v. Buick Motor Co., a pioneering ruling in issues concerning individual consumers and product liability.

Supreme Court Justice

Cardozo was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Herbert Hoover, with the judge taking his seat in March 1932. He served on the bench for six years, supporting much of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal initiatives, including Social Security programs, and helping shape the direction of criminal law.

Later experts have said Cardozo took a moralistic approach to his pioneering work on legal doctrines while misrepresenting facts in particular cases, with the idea of serving the larger good. A deeply private man known for his gentle, affable demeanor and loved by his colleagues, he never married. He had also taken care of his older sister Ellen Ida, who had fallen ill for some time and died in 1929.

In addition to his work as judge, Cardozo was a co-founder of the American Law Institute in 1923 and served on the board of the American Jewish Committee. He received honorary degrees from an array of institutions.

Books on His Life

Benjamin Cardozo died on July 9, 1938, in Port Chester, New York. Books on his life and career include The World of Benjamin Cardozo: Personal Values and the Judicial Process (1997) by Richard Polenberg, and Cardozo (1998) by Andrew L. Kaufman. Known for his beautiful and at times veiled language, Cardozo was also a published author with notable offerings detailing his philosophies on the law, including The Nature of the Judicial Process (1921; reformatted in 2010) and Law and Literature (1931).

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