Born in New York, Cardozo attended Columbia College, graduating in 1889,
and Law School but left without taking a law degree. He served as counsel to
other lawyers, and soon gained a reputation as a "lawyer's lawyer." He was
elected to the New York State Supreme Court in 1913, then a year later to the
New York State Court of Appeals, becoming Chief Judge of the court in 1927.
Especially in commercial law, Cardozo's opinions carried great weight in
New York and throughout the country. His decision in the landmark case of
McPherson v. Buick Motor Co. (1916) changed the very nature of
product liability law, making manufacturers directly liable to the consumer.
Cardozo argued that rules of law should be judged not by their antiquity or
logic but by the extent to which they contributed to society's welfare. He was
appointed to the Supreme Court by President Hoover in 1932 to succeed Oliver
Wendell Holmes. Joining the liberal block headed by Justices Louis D. Brandeis
and Harlan Fiske Stone, he voted to uphold much of the early New Deal
legislation. In his six terms he showed promise of becoming one of the Court's
great justices, but died before he could leave a significant corpus of opinions.
His papers held by the Rare Book and Manuscript Library include his senior
thesis, shown here, as well as his lecture notes kept as a student at Columbia,
and his commonplace books.