Judicial Agenda of President Franklin Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

If Chief Justice Hughes and his five aged associates had chosen to remain, the membership of the court would have been enlarged from nine to fifteen" (Pusey 1995).

A small group of constitutional lawyers advised Roosevelt in the construction of the bill, assuring him that the Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress would pass it. When Roosevelt introduced the bill, Roosevelt used the euphemism of judicial 'reform' rather than said it was an attempt to circumvent the recent rulings of the Supreme Court. He framed his plan as a way of relieving the pressures of overcrowded court dockets. However, some of the phrases he used made his feelings clear, namely his reference to the problems of lifetime appointments, or "aged or infirm judges," (Menaker 2008).

When he spoke of justices of advanced ages, the President was obviously speaking of his opponents on the Court, the so-called anti-government Four Horsemen of the New Deal Apocalypse, all over the age of seventy: Justices Butler, McReynolds, Sutherland and Van Devanter. Roosevelt said older men often lack "mental or physical vigor" which "leads men to avoid an examination of complicated and changed conditions" (Menaker 2008). He added: "older men, assuming that the scene is the same as it was in the past, cease to explore or inquire into the present or the future" (Menaker 2008). Hence, the need to reduce the influence of old judges.

The Senate hearings on the Bill, particularly after the testimony of Chief Justice Hughes about how an enlarged court would be more unwieldy and inefficient, roused the ire of both legislators and the public against Roosevelt's plan, especially after Chief Justice Hughes showed that the court's docket was not overcrowded. Yet while the doomed bill was debated, the Supreme Court suddenly decided that their previous conclusion in the New York minimum-wage case had been wrong. In December of 1936, the Court voted four-to-four to uphold a similar Washington minimum-age law and to reverse its previous decision. Roosevelt had said he wanted his new justices to be more responsive to the needs of the public. While the justices decried this on principle, in action they began to move to support Roosevelt's desire for change. On April 12 the Court upheld the National Labor Relations Act and confirmed the power of Congress to regulate industrial relations having a direct impact on interstate commerce. When a few weeks later the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected the Roosevelt's 'packing the Court' legislation, the Court validated the constitutionality of Social Security (Pusey 1958).

To speak of Roosevelt's judicial philosophy may be somewhat inaccurate -- Roosevelt was a legislator, a doer, a politician by instinct, not a constitutional philosopher. He was clearly angered by the unresponsiveness of an unelected body of men to the needs of the country, and its inflexibility to the needs of the nation. He thought the Supreme Court should serve the people, rather than be unresponsive to the popular will. He feared the influence of old men, and old men growing insulated to social problems. The Constitution was a flexible document, not dogma, and Roosevelt saw no reason for the elected chief executive not to have superior influence and insight than old justices. As noble as Roosevelt's intentions may have been, even liberal defenders of the New Deal might argue that Roosevelt type of executive confidence, although thwarted, would later spur other presidents on to even more egregious use of their powers.

Works Cited

Lord, Lewis. "An eagle that didn't take off." U.S. News and World Report.

August 10, 2003. Full text of print article available March 6, 2009 at http://www.usnews.com/usnews/culture/articles/030818/1870thann.htm

Menaker, by Richard G. "FDR's Court-Packing Plan: A Study in Irony." History Now. Issue 15,

April 2008. March 6, 2009 http://www.historynow.org/04_2008/historian4.html

Pusey, M. "FDR vs. The Supreme Court." American Heritage Magazine. 1958. Reprint

Accessed March 6, 2009 at http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1958/3/1958_3_24.shtml

Presidential politics: Franklin Delano Roosevelt." The American Experience.

PBS. March 6, 2009 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/presidents/32_f_roosevelt/f_roosevelt_politics.html

Roosevelt, Franklin. "Fireside Chat on Reorganization of the Judiciary." March 9, 1937. Full text and audio available March 6, 2009 at http://www.hpol.org/fdr/chat

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Lord, Lewis. "An eagle that didn't take off." U.S. News and World Report.

August 10, 2003. Full text of print article available March 6, 2009 at http://www.usnews.com/usnews/culture/articles/030818/1870thann.htm

Menaker, by Richard G. "FDR's Court-Packing Plan: A Study in Irony." History Now. Issue 15,

April 2008. March 6, 2009 http://www.historynow.org/04_2008/historian4.html

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