Benjamin Cardozo

CARDOZO, BENJAMIN NATHAN (1870-1938), U.S. lawyer and justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Cardozo was born in New York City, where his ancestors had settled prior to the American Revolution. After graduating from Columbia College, he studied at Columbia Law School and was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1891. Cardozo practiced law for 22 years, distinguishing himself as a “lawyer’s lawyer.” In 1913 he was elected justice of the Supreme Court of New York, and shortly thereafter was designated temporary associate judge of the Court of Appeals, the highest appeal court of the state. In 1917 he was appointed a regular member of that court and in the same year was elected for a 14-year term. Elected chief judge of the Court of Appeals in 1927, Cardozo served until President Herbert Hoover appointed him to the Supreme Court of the U.S. in 1932.

Quiet, gentle, and reserved, Cardozo was deemed “a paragon of moral insight on the American bench” by legal philosopher Edmond Cahn, while Dean Roscoe Pound of Harvard Law School ranked him as one of the ten foremost judges in American judicial history. An outstanding judicial stylist, he is still recognized as the great interpreter of the common law. During his judgeship on the Court of Appeals, the court exerted great influence on the development of the common law throughout the United States, and even in England, because of the brilliancy of Cardozo’s reasoning and the weight of the authorities upon which he based his decisions. His opinion in McPherson v. Buick Motor Co. (217 N.Y. 382, 1916) on the duty owed by an automobile manufacturer to a purchaser of its cars has left its imprint on the law of torts.

Cardozo is particularly noted for his original thinking as expounded in his books: Nature of the Judicial Process (1921), Growth of the Law (1924), Paradoxes of Legal Science (1928), and Law and Literature (1930). He emphasized that a judge had to look beyond the legal authorities to meet responsibility to those seeking justice. He had to be cognizant of, and acquaint himself with, the latest developments in the fields of psychology and economics. According to Roscoe Pound, Cardozo was one of America’s greatest writers on law: “In American sociological jurisprudence the outstanding work is that of Mr. Justice Cardozo.”

On the Supreme Court Cardozo was a bulwark in defense of New Deal legislation, finding constitutional such important social programs as social security and old-age pensions. In Helvering v. Davis (301 U.S. 619, 1937), he upheld these programs within the conception of the “general welfare” clause of the U.S. Constitution. Cardozo set forth his constitutional philosophy in this case as one which justified searching the language of the Constitution for a grant of power to the national government to improve the well-being of the nation by providing for needs which are “critical or urgent.” Chief Justice Hughes in eulogizing him said: “No judge ever came to this court more fully equipped by learning, acumen, dialectical skill, and disinterested purpose.” Cardozo was a member of his ancestral Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York, and was a supporter of the Jewish Education Association of New York. Selected Writings of Benjamin Nathan Cardozo was published in 1947.
[Julius J. Marcke]