Leaders and Liberals in 20th Century America

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

Hugo L. Black
NEW DEAL JUSTICE

ALTHOUGH PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT'S maladroit move against the Supreme Court in February 1937 resulted in a political battle lost from the outset, his defeat soon became the springboard leading to decisive victory. By "a switch in time that saved the nine," the Court sharply reversed its previous position and validated a number of New Deal laws. At about the same time Justice Van Devanter announced his retirement. With Senator Joseph Robinson, who was to have been appointed to the first vacancy, suddenly dead of a heart attack, Roosevelt found the choosing of a new Justice a highly intricate political problem. He knew the Senate was in a recalcitrant mood and would resist the confirmation of a known progressive. Yet he was resolved to name a genuine and aggressive liberal. After considering scores of likely candidates he surprised the nation and nonplused the Senate by nominating Senator Black of Alabama. Thus Roosevelt once again revealed himself the shrewd politician: defiantly selecting an ardent New Dealer and yet assured of his confirmation by the wonted rule of Senatorial courtesy.

The outcry against the nominee was vociferous and vituperative. He was denounced as a demagogue devoid of the judicial temper and accused of intolerance, inquisitorial arrogance, and juristic ignorance. Ominous reference was also made to his one-time connection with the Ku Klux Klan. Despite this harsh criticism he was confirmed within two days.

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