In which debate has swirled around racial...

IN A WEEK

June 08, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

IN A WEEK in which debate has swirled around racial, ethnic and gender quotas, I came across this statement in a review of a book about American Jews:

"There has not been a Jew on the United States Supreme Court for 22 years, despite a disproportionate number of Jews in the legal pantheon. There are plenty of prominent Jewish Republicans, but not one Jew in the Bush Cabinet. No Jew has ever been speaker of the House or majority leader of the Senate (or minority leader or whip for that matter), and no Jew has ever sought the nomination for President or even Vice President from a major party, much less been nominated."

That's from Sidney Zion's New York Times Book Review review of "Chutzpah" by Alan M. Dershowitz.

I wonder if any Jew in America feels worse off today than 22 years ago when Abe Fortas was still on the Supreme Court? I wonder if any Jew really cares about how many Jews there are in the Bush cabinet? Or in congressional leadership? Or thinks it matters? I wonder if Zion is suggesting Jews are still excluded from politics? I wonder if he has forgotten Barry Goldwater and Jacob Javits?

But first, "the Jewish seat" on the Supreme Court. There is one, but a Protestant has it. It was established in 1932, when President Herbert Hoover named Benjamin Cardozo to the court. There already was a Jewish justice, Louis Brandeis, appointed in 1916. He was the first ever. But he was not succeeded by a Jew. Cardozo was. So was his successor, Felix Frankfurter, and his, Arthur Goldberg, and his, Abe Fortas. Fortas was succeeded by Harry Blackmun, a Protestant.

As for any suggestion that Jews are excluded from national elective office by religious prejudice, forget about it! Jews are over-represented in Congress, statistically speaking. They represent just 2.5 percent of the nation's population, but 7.3 percent of representatives and 8 percent of senators are Jewish. A few of the representatives are from districts with large Jewish voting blocs, but the senators are from states with these percentages of Jewish voters: 5.7, 3.6, 2.9, 1.3, 0.9, 0.8, 0.8, 0.7.

This is an oft-told tale, but it's appropriate in this column. In 1964, Republicans nominated Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona for president. His father was Jewish, but Barry was raised in the faith of his mother. This led Harry Golden of the Carolina Israelite to write, "I always knew that the first Jewish president would be an Episcopalian."

Goldwater, a right-winger, lost in a landslide. So as 1968 approached Republicans on the other side of the political spectrum were determined to pick the ticket.

Some suggested a "dream ticket" of moderate Michigan Gov. George Romney for president and liberal New York Sen. Jacob (( Javits for vice president. Javits was Jewish. Romney was Mormonish. This led to a revival of Golden's joke applied to Javits, since Mormons, it was oft said then, thought of all non-Mormons, including Jews, as Gentiles.

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