Report

Is Sotomayor the Court's First Hispanic?

Is Sonia Sotomayor the first Hispanic ever nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court? Or does that distinction belong to the late Justice Benjamin Cardozo, who served on the court from 1932-1938 and whose ancestors may or may not have come from Portugal?

Unscrambling Cardozo's family tree is best left to historians and genealogists. Here we take a stab at a more daunting question. Just who is a Hispanic?

If you turn to the U.S. government for answers, you quickly discover that it has two different approaches to this definitional question. Both are products of a 1976 act of Congress and the administrative regulations that flow from it.

One approach defines a Hispanic or Latino as a member of an ethnic group that traces its roots to 20 Spanish-speaking nations from Latin America and Spain itself (but not Portugal or Portuguese-speaking Brazil).

The other approach is much simpler. Who's Hispanic? Anyone who says they are. And nobody who says they aren't.

Read the full commentary Is Sotomayor the Court's First Hispanic? on the Pew Research Center's Web site.