SCOTUS – Going From 9 Old Men To 15 In 1937

Supreme Court

SCOTUS in session – photo: Erich Salomon – It was FDR’s intention to increase the number of judges to make the whole thing run more efficiently.

SCOTUS – The Supreme Court Plan by FDR – February 5, 1937 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

SCOTUS (Supreme Court Of The United States), that august body of law makers was coming under fire in 1937, by none other than the Commander-In-Chief. President Roosevelt felt the then-current structure of 9 Supreme Court Justices, presiding over the proceedings was not efficient enough to take care of all the pressing issues going on in Washington. That what the Supreme Court needed was new blood. In addition, FDR called for retirement of any current Judges who were 70 years or older. Any judge who refused retirement would be replaced by an assistant and given full voting rights.

And so, by way of a report, which was read by Speaker of the House, William B. Bankhead, to a joint session of Congress, President Roosevelt outlined the changes he wished to make, and why.

Needless to say, it triggered a storm of controversy and forced retaliations throughout Capitol Hill. Republicans and some Democrats labeled FDR’s move Court-Packing; filling the Supreme court with appointments loyal to FDR which would make opposition to New Deal legislation a moot point. They also feared the appointments by FDR would turn the Supreme Court into a liberal-leaning majority, ensuring FDR’s new deal measures would remain unopposed for decades to come.

Debate and lobbying on both sides of the issue was intense. But by April, when the proposal came to a vote, two Justices came to support the National Recovery Act as well as the Social Security Act, and many felt the economy had grown to such a degree under FDR that Federal regulation and control was now warranted and that FDR’s reorganization plan was deemed unnecessary. The Senate stuck the measure down 70-22. However, shortly after, Justice Hughes announced his retirement. And by 1943 all but one Supreme Court Justice had been appointed by FDR. So, instead of 15 judges, there were still 9 and 8 of them were appointed by FDR anyway. So . . .

Here is that initial reading of the Supreme Court reorganization proposal, as it was read before a Joint Session of Congress on February 5, 1937.

 

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