On this date the legal legend and Supreme Court justice BENJAMIN CARDOZO was born (d. 1938). Cardozo is remembered for his significant influence on the development of American common law in the 20th century, in addition to his modesty, philosophy, and vivid prose style. Although Cardozo only served on the Supreme Court from 1932 until his death six years later, the majority of his landmark decisions were delivered during his eighteen-year tenure on the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court of that state.

Was Cardozo Gay?

As far as is known, Benjamin Cardozo led a celibate life. The fact that Cardozo was unmarried and was personally tutored by the writer Horatio Alger (who is included in Daily GayWisdom for his own interesting sexual background) has led some of Cardozo’s biographers to believe that Cardozo was homosexual, but no direct evidence exists to corroborate this possibility. He never married and rumors abounded about him.

The story that was told was he was “too devoted” to his ailing sister to ever get married. One of Cardozo’s biographers talks of how his friends, when describing Cardozo, used words like “beautiful, exquisite, sensitive or delicate.” But he certainly didn’t allow anyone much evidence to find out. Like many other men in history (Henry James anyone?) Cardozo made sure to have all of his correspondence burned after his death (much to the shock and outrage of scholars).

In truth, most of what was interesting about him went unreported, either because the personal details were not known or because the press tacitly agreed not to print them in deference to Cardozo’s sensibilities. Throughout his career Cardozo had politely but finely discouraged aspiring biographers.

The Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand commented that Cardozo “never quite wanted anybody to penetrate into his inner life,” Irving Lehman, Cardozo’s closest friend and colleague on the Court of Appeals since 1923, phrased it somewhat differently. Shortly after Cardozo’s death in July 1938 Lehman eulogized him as follows: “A man of fastidious reticence, he guarded jealously his personal privacy … Always he selected the field to which he would admit even his chosen friends, when he would disclose to them his thoughts and feelings; always he would reserve for himself fields from which he would gently exclude even his friends. He would be distressed if what he reserved for a friend were exhibited to the world.”

Lehman was the man who took care to destroy all of the Supreme Court justice’s private letters in a way so thorough one biographer compared the treatment of Cardozo’s papers to the treatment Jeanne d’Arc received.