President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-era legislative program to boost the economy, initially assaulted as unconstitutional but later upheld after Roosevelt threatened to pack the Supreme Court.
In the mid-1930’s, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s
President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressing a joint session of Congress, along with members of the Supreme Court, cabinet members, and the diplomat corps, on the 150th anniversary of the founding of Congress. By this time, he had won most of his battles with the Court over the constitutionality of his New Deal programs.
However, in January, 1935, the Court invalidated the “hot oil” provision (section 9c) of the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act
The Court and President Roosevelt had different parameters concerning the permissible degree of government regulation. The president attacked the Court’s decisions as “horse-and-buggy” thinking, rewrote legislation to circumvent the Court’s objections, and in 1935 expanded his social reform agenda with the Social Security Act, National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), and Guffy Coal Act. The Supreme Court refused to capitulate and, in 1936, overturned the Agricultural Adjustment Act (1933) and the Guffy Coal Act and struck down a New York State minimum-wage law. This time, however, the Court’s three liberals dissented strongly, with Justice Stone proclaiming the entire session disastrous.
Following his landslide reelection in 1936, aware that no justice was planning to retire and sure that the Wagner and Social Security Acts were threatened, Roosevelt declared war on the Court. After numerous verbal assaults, including charges that the Court imperiled American democracy, and after considering numerous options, he decided to reform the Court by statute. Charging the Court with old age and inefficiency, Roosevelt in February, 1937, announced his plan to add six new justices.
Despite the hugely divisive effect of the Court-packing plan
By 1940 the Court’s turbulent New Deal era had ended. Departures from the Court would enable Roosevelt to appoint eight new justices, and the so-called “Roosevelt Court” upheld all later New Deal legislation.
Leuchtenburg, William E. The Supreme Court Reborn: The Constitutional Revolution in the Age of Roosevelt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Hockett, Jeffrey. New Deal Justice: The Constitutional Jurisprudence of Hugo L. Black, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert H. Jackson. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996. McKenna, Marian C. Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Constitutional War: The Court-Packing Crisis of 1937. New York: Fordham University Press, 2002. Pusey, Merlo John. The Supreme Court Crisis. New York: Da Capo Press, 1973. Shaw, Stephen K., ed. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Transformation of the Supreme Court. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2004.
Butler, United States v.
Carter v. Carter Coal Co.
Gold Clause Cases
Helvering v. Davis
National Labor Relations Board v. Jones and Laughlin Steel Corp.
Roosevelt, Franklin D.
Separation of powers
West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish