Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Supreme Court

Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Supreme Court

Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Supreme Court

Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Supreme Court

Excerpt

The Supreme Court of the United States has been a symbol of final and even-handed justice to some, an example of class interest to others, and to still others simply a necessary device for getting a final, if not always prompt, decision upon close legal arguments. Opponents of the Court have said that it converted clauses designed to protect individual freedom into legal ramparts for the defense of entrenched wealth. Proponents have, with steady fingers, pointed to the so-called conservative Court, and reminded its critics of numerous decisions which have maintained essential civil liberties.

It has been popular on the part of some to praise John Marshall, or Louis Brandeis, but to roll their eyes in smug scorn or query at the dictums of Taney, Chase, Miller, Field, or the recent, legally conservative, and persistent Justice Sutherland. Rather than develop stereotyped thinking or judge on a popular basis it is well to re-examine the burning legal issue of the 1930's, to take the modern instance when the usually quiet and unobtrusive candle of the law met a reforming administration and fired a raging public controversy. It was this dispute over Court packing which may well have decided the future of the Supreme Court for decades to come. It is in this dispute that persons may find an opportunity to re-examine the relationship of executives, legislatures, and courts.

To the person who desires to acquaint himself or renew acquaintanceship with the Supreme Court packing controversy and its ramifications, the general problem is simply: Should Roosevelt have attempted to pack the Supreme Court? There are many subsidiary problem as tions of substantive issues and careful consideration of the relationships of means and ends. Had the esteemed justices of the Supreme Court correctly interpreted the Constitution, or had they knowingly or unconsciously slipped into the role of partisans of class interest? Was the New Deal program, in part held unconstitutional, a justifiable remedy for the serious economic and social results of the depression? Whether or not this New Deal was justified aside from legal ramifications, did it cross, run counter to, or threaten the "correct" meaning of the United States Constitution? When Congress, apparently representing a vast majority of the people, passes a program for economic reform, how far may interpretations by a slight majority of the Supreme Court defeat such a program?

Even should one hold the Roosevelt program was justifiable in a political sense, sound economically, and upon impeccable legal ground, the nature of Mr. Roosevelt's proposals for Court reform should be examined. Without engaging in the worthwhile, but sometimes trite prejudgment that good ends may be destroyed by the means employed, dispassionate and critical examination of the evidence should be sought concerning Mr. Roosevelt's remedies, popularly called "court packing." Did the evils . . .

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