This new biography of one of the eminences of American law is interesting yet unsatisfying, for author Polenberg's...


THE WORLD OF BENJAMIN CARDOZO: Personal Values and the Judicial Process

This new biography of one of the eminences of American law is interesting yet unsatisfying, for author Polenberg's (History/Cornell Univ.) attempt to demonstrate how Cardozo the man shaped Cardozo the judge lacks necessary depth. Respected for his erudition, admired for his incisive opinions as a judge on New York State's highest court and on the Supreme Court, and beloved for his gentleness, Benjamin N. Cardozo (1870-1938) was much celebrated during his own lifetime. The acclaim persists six decades after his death, despite the fact that while several principal Cardozo doctrines endure, many of his most important decisions have been rejected as antiquated and inappropriate. For instance, in 1957 the New York Court of Appeals overturned Cardozo's 1914 and 1925 decisions that hospitals can't be held liable for the errors of surgeons and that universities can't be legally responsible for mistakes made by science professors that result in laboratory accidents. Polenberg appropriately and respectfully attempts to deconstruct the Cardozo legend, arguing that he lacked sufficient emotional experience to inform his judicial decisions. For example, in reviewing a rape case, Cardozo's repressed and naive views on sex prompted him to advance the now totally discredited legal assertion that an ""unchaste"" woman would not likely resist sexual advances. Indeed, Polenberg shows that Cardozo sometimes distorted or ignored salient facts to make his judicial decisions conform to his personal sense of morality. The weakness of the book, however, is that Polenberg defends his positions by discussing a handful of admittedly important decisions in excessive detail, at the expense of a thorough analysis and critique of Cardozo's body of work. Not every Cardozo ruling would bear out Polenberg's thesis. It is well acknowledged in modern legal theory that judges are strongly influenced by their emotions and experiences when molding law; thus, the reader might expect more from Polenberg than simply the PrOposition that Judge Cardozo's stunted emotions affected his rulings.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1997


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1997

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