Selected Papers of Homer Cummings, Attorney General of the United States, 1933-1939

By Homer S. Cummings; Carl Brent Swisher | Go to book overview

4. The National Industrial Recovery Act

[The National Industrial Recovery Act gave rise to complex problems of administration and litigation. The statute on which the structure for code regulation of labor and other competitive conditions was based was extremely general in its phrasing. It left to the administration the establishment of whatever machinery might be needed. A "National Recovery Administration" for the handling of activities in many fields was set up as an agency independent of any department. However, the administration of the codes of some industries utilizing agricultural products was turned over to an "Agricultural Adjustment Administration" in the Department of Agriculture; and the petroleum code and the administration of regulations based on Section 9 (c) of the National Industrial Recovery Act were allotted to a "Petroleum Administrative Board" in the Department of the Interior. Powers of enforcement were given to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.

In the thought of the moment, however, enforcement was to be largely psychological rather than legalistically punitive. The right to display the "Blue Eagle" was given as evidence of observance of the President's Re-employment Agreement and of the provisions of the codes. The possession of the Blue Eagle was the symbol of good behavior. After consultation with General Hugh Johnson, Administrator of the National Industrial Recovery Act, Attorney General Cummings agreed to withhold action on reported violations of the law and of the codes based upon it (see Circular No. 2441, August 8, 1933). Reports of violations which were sent to the Department of Justice were regularly forwarded to the National Recovery Administration.

Popular enthusiasm for the National Industrial Recovery Act declined rapidly as business conditions improved. It became apparent that enforcement by legal process would be necessary. The several emergency agencies sought the privilege of handling their own litigation, as against leaving it to the Department of Justice where it was placed by statute and by executive order. Members of such agencies were from time to time appointed as special assistants to the Attorney General for the argument of cases, but the Department of Justice insisted on retaining control of litigation. Emergency agencies were critical of the delays which proved necessary for the adequate preparation of cases, and of the reluctance of the Department of Justice to press cases in which the basis

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