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An intensely private man whose friends destroyed much of his correspondence, Cardozo has long eluded scrutiny. But through extraordinary effort Richard Polenberg has uncovered letters, briefs, transcripts, and biographical details to give us a complex living picture of this man whose judicial opinions continue to affect us. Polenberg describes the shaping experiences of Cardozo's youth, among them the death of his mother when he was nine years old; religious training in the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue; two years of private tutoring by Horatio Alger, Jr.; and his reaction to the scandal that prompted his father to resign from the New York Supreme Court. Then, in light of certain cases that were brought before the Court of Appeals, we see how Cardozo's rulings reflected a system of beliefs rooted in these early experiences; how, despite his famous detachment, Cardozo read evidence and precedents selectively and based his decisions regarding issues from rape and divorce to the insanity plea on his own views about morality, scholarship, and sexuality. Here too is the truth behind Cardozo's renowned liberalism, explored through his rulings on New Deal measures such asthe Social Security Act and his more conservative decisions in cases involving conscientious objectors and the rights of criminal defendants.
The Benjamin Cardozo who emerges from these pages, a complicated and intriguing figure, points to a new understanding of the shaping of American law.
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