Sonia Sotomayor NOT the first Hispanic for US Supreme Court
The 'New York Times' Challenged by Shelomo Alfassa and Responds
By Shelomo Alfassa for the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University
(May 26, 2009) - The media is making a huge mistake reporting that Sonia Sotomayor, chosen by President Obama, will be the first Hispanic to be chosen for the US Supreme Court. Yet, Benjamin Nathan Cardozo (1870-1938) was the first Hispanic Justice in the US Supreme Court. Cardozo, a Sephardic Jew, served on the Supreme Court from 1932 until his death. He was born in to a Jewish family which immigrated from Portugal via the Netherlands and England to America. He was a long time member of the 'Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue' in New York City, home to 'Congregation Shearith Israel,' which was founded in 1654. Cardozo was a cousin of the poet Emma Lazarus whose poem "...Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ..." resides on the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of legal immigration into the United States of America.
Shelomo Alfassa contacted Peter Baker at the New York Times who responded in part: "...This is certainly an interesting issue. My colleague, Neil Lewis, has a sidebar addressing this very point in tomorrow's paper. Thanks again for the note." Here is the article they responded with:
Problems with the NY Times response:
1) Prof. Mair Jose Benardete, the first Sephardic scholar in America, authored "Hispanic Culture and Character of the Sephardic Jews" in 1952. Throughout his scholarly book, he uses the word Hispanic to refer to Iberian Jews, Jews from Spain and Portugal (living in New York). Hispanic can certainly refer to Jew from Iberia, meaning both Spanish and Portuguese.
2) Tens if not hundreds of thousand of Spanish Jews were sent into Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition. Many of the Jews in Portugal later escaped, this includes the Cardozo family who has a tradition that their ancestors were secretly forced to convert to Christianity--but did escape religious persecution in the 17th century. The Cardozo family took refuge first in Holland and then in London. Later members of the family emigrated to the New World.
That a Sephardic scholar used the word Hispanic in 1952 to refer to all Jews from the Iberian Peninsula (the normal Jewish definition of the term) doesn't mean anything. It isn't relevant in any way. Cardozo's family lived in Portugal – which means he doesn't fit the classic secular definition of Hispanic.