Rove Says There's Already Been A Hispanic Supreme Court Justice

May 28, 2009 10:50 am ET — Matt Finkelstein

Rove's claim is nothing more than another shameful attempt to diminish President Obama and his groundbreaking nominee.

In today's Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove penned a column titled "'Empathy' Is Code for Judicial Activism." Of course, Rove is a few weeks late in making that particular criticism, and most of his digs against Judge Sonia Sotomayor are no more original. But Rove did manage one inventive line of attack against President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court: Despite widespread claims to the contrary, Rove says Sotomayor will not actually be the first Hispanic on the court if she's confirmed:

While the next two to four months of maneuverings and hearings may provide more insights into the views of Mr. Obama's pick, barring an unforeseen development -- not unheard of in Supreme Court nominations -- Judge Sotomayor will become the second Hispanic (Benjamin Cardozo was Sephardic) and third woman confirmed to the Supreme Court.

According to Cardozo biographer Andrew Kaufman, "Cardozo's ancestors came to the American colonies in the 1700s from England and Holland, but no one has ever firmly established that the family's roots were, in fact, in Portugal." However, even assuming Cardozo was Portuguese, that wouldn't make him Hispanic. The AP Style Book defines Hispanic as follows:

Hispanic.  The preferred term for those whose ethnic origin is in a Spanish-speaking country.  Latino is acceptable for Hispanics who prefer that term. (The feminine form is Latina) Use a more specific identification when possible, such as Cuban, Puerto Rican or Mexican-American or the name of an indigenous group in a Latin American country...Refer to people of Brazilian and Portuguese origin as such, not as Hispanic.

Perhaps Rove is confused about what language is spoken in Portugal. The distinction, though, is barely relevant. Cardozo's family might have some Portuguese ancestry and has been in the continental U.S. since colonial times. In fact, one of Cardozo's relatives "helped found the New York Stock Exchange in 1792." Meanwhile, Sotomayor's parents were born in Puerto Rico, where many of her relatives still live.

Rove's claim is nothing more than another shameful attempt to diminish President Obama and his groundbreaking nominee.