The First Hispanic Justice?, Ctd

Many readers have responded this post questioning whether Sotomayor would in fact be the first Hispanic justice, given that Justice Cardozo had Portuguese heritage. To supplement the debate, National Journal's new SCOTUS blog points to a fascinating 2002 article in the NJ archives chronicling the vague and ever-evolving meaning of "Hispanic":

Two Hispanic-oriented Web sites - HispanicOn and - count Cardozo and list him as the first Hispanic justice. Yet the Hispanic National Bar Association is urging Bush to appoint the first Hispanic justice. ... Wooing Hispanic voters certainly wasn't Herbert Hoover's aim when he tapped Cardozo for the high court 70 years ago. "Hispanic" wasn't even a regular part of the American political lexicon. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary then narrowly defined the word as "of or pert[aining] to Spain and its language." ... According to Harvard law professor Andrew Kaufman, one of Cardozo's biographers, Cardozo would have thought of himself as a Sephardic Jew of Portuguese descent and probably not as Hispanic.

But by 1970, when the Census Bureau reluctantly began to ask U.S. residents whether they were Hispanic, the term had evolved to include people of Portuguese extraction, at least in the view of Webster's. It defined "Hispanic" as "of or relating to the people, speech, or culture of Spain, Spain and Portugal, or Latin America." The Census Bureau added the "Hispanic" query at the last minute at the insistence of President Nixon, who astutely saw the large number of Mexican-Americans in his native California as an indicator that Hispanics were becoming an important voting bloc.

Bureau officials strongly objected to Nixon's request because they didn't have time to determine whether the term "Hispanic" had any scientific basis and whether it was a designation that the targeted population would identify with.

Today, except at the Library of Congress and the Small Business Administration, the consensus tends to be that Portuguese-Americans are not Hispanic. "I personally do not classify Portuguese under the `Hispanic' or `Latino' label, and I would say the majority [of Portuguese-Americans] do not as well," says Jason Moreira, executive assistant of the Portuguese American Leadership Council of the United States.

Webster's now defines "Hispanic" as "of, relating to, or being a person of Latin American descent living in the U.S.; especially one of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin." Any U.S. resident who wanted to could claim to be "Spanish/Hispanic/Latino" on the 2000 census form because the Census Bureau allows people to define themselves. People of Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Cuban descent had separate checkoff boxes so that their proportion of the Hispanic population could be determined. Anyone belonging to an "other" Hispanic group was asked to name it. Self-identified Hispanic people who listed themselves as Portuguese, Brazilian, or Haitian were then not tallied as "Hispanic," though the census form did not warn that they would not be.

The two Portuguese-Americans in the U.S. House, California Republican Richard Pombo and Pennsylvania Republican Patrick Toomey, do not belong to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Neither does Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., a Native American who is part Portuguese. However, former Congressman Tony Coelho, a Democrat of Portuguese heritage, did belong to that caucus. Dennis Cardoza, who defeated California Rep. Gary Condit in the Democratic primary, is Portuguese and doesn't consider himself Hispanic. But Cordoza has two adopted Hispanic children, and he intends to join the Hispanic Caucus, if elected. (The House's Portuguese-American Caucus is largely composed of non-Portuguese lawmakers who represent large numbers of Portuguese-Americans.)

And this is a nice touch at the end:

[Author] Gregg Sangillo is National Journal's fact checker. His surname is often assumed to be Hispanic but is, in fact, Italian.