Judge Sonia Sotomayor Since the President yesterday announced that Judge Sonia Sotomayor was his choice as the next Supreme Court Justice, there has been all kinds of controversy as to whether she will be the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. It seems that the name of Justice Benjamin Cardozo, who served on the court from 1932-1938, keeps coming up as possibly being the first Hispanic to serve. His family was presumably from Portugal – and some have mistakenly claimed that makes him Hispanic. Wrong…

After reading numerous columns on the subject, I settled on that of Robert Schlesinger of U.S. News and World Report, as being the best researched and generally interesting. Following is a teaser from his column.

It’s been widely reported that Judge Sonia Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court, though a few people (including some TV commentators) have wondered whether Justice Benjamin Cardozo (on the court from 1932-1938) should not in fact be counted as such.

The answer seems to be that Sotomayor would in fact be the first Hispanic, but it also points up the problem inherent in the term Hispanic.

Cardozo, Josh Marshall reports, was of Portuguese ancestry (Cardozo biographer Andrew Kaufman says that Cardozo “family legend” has them coming from Portugal, but without “firm documentation about the particulars”). Which brings us to the critical question: What sort of ancestry qualifies as Hispanic? There are three strikes against the Cardozo-as-Hispanic thesis, all having to do with the fact that Portuguese natives speak … Portuguese (rather than Spanish).

Read Schlesinger’s full column in the May 26, 2009 Edition of the U.S. News Website.