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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.

(26 de Mayo de 2009) - En los medios de informacion se esta cometiendo un grave error al reportar que Sonia Sotomayor, escogida por el Presidente Obama, sera la primera hispana elegida para la corte suprema de los Estados Unidos. En realidad, Benjamin Nathan Cardozo (1870-1938) fue el primer juez hispano en la corte suprema de los Estados Unidos. Cardozo, un judio Sefaradi, sirvio en la corte suprema desde 1932 hasta su muerte. Nacido en el ceno de una familia judia que emigro de Portugal via Holanda e Inglaterra a la America. Fue miembro por largo tiempo de la Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue en la ciudad de Nueva York, Congregacion Shearith Israel, fundada en 1654. Cardozo era primo de la celebre poeta Emma Lazarus, de la cual su poema "...Dadme a sus canzados, a sus pobres, a sus masas atestadas que desean respirar libres..." esta grabado en la Estatua de la Libertad como simbolo de la inmigracion legal a los Estados Unidos de 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:

"Was a Hispanic Justice on the Court in the ’30s?"

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.



Shelomo Alfassa is author of "A Window into Old Jerusalem." He is the former executive director of the 'International Sephardic Leadership Council' and today is the US Director of 'Justice for Jews from Arab Countries,' which is based at the 'American Sephardi Federation' in the 'Center for Jewish History' in New York City.

This essay is available for syndication


© Shelomo Alfassa