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

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

9. Repercussions of the Court Plan

[On April 12, 1937, the Supreme Court decisions were announced in a number of National Labor Relations Act cases ( N. L. R. B. v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, 301 U. S. 1; Associated Press v. N. L. R. B., 301 U. S. 103; Washington V. & M. C. Co. v. N. L. R. B., 301 U. S. 142). In and out of the administration, the act had been regarded as almost clearly invalid on precedent. The alignment of judges varied in the several cases, but the National Labor Relations Act was upheld in each case. The Carter Coal case was not specifically overruled with respect to the limitations on federal control over national labor relations in the production of goods intended for interstate commerce; but if the facts are studied, the former decision seems to retain little significance. On May 24, 1937, decisions were announced in cases involving federal and state social security legislation, in which the statutes were upheld in all instances ( Carmichael v. Southern Coal and Coke Company, 301 U. S. 495; Steward Machine Company v. Davis, 301 U. S. 548; Helvering v. Davis, 301 U. S. 619). By those decisions the way was paved to go forward with an important segment of the administration program.

It seems clear that the proposed judicial reorganization and the ensuing struggle brought about a more liberal interpretation of the Constitution. On the other hand, the labor act decisions and the social security decisions had repercussions on the Court Plan, in providing basis for the belief that constitutional interpretation had been reformed, so that drastic legislation with respect to the judiciary was no longer needed.

After the beginning of the new trend of judicial decisions and the retirement of one of the conservative judges, Mr. Justice Van Devanter, which took place June 2, 1937, the Congress itself sought to secure a judicial reconsideration of municipal bankruptcy legislation. The Municipal Bankruptcy Act of May 24, 1934, had been declared invalid on May 25, 1936 ( Ashton v. Cameron County District, 298 U. S. 513), by a vote of five to four. A new law covering the same subject was now enacted with the possibility in mind that the court might uphold such a measure. A case based on the new act was decided by the Supreme Court after the retirement of Mr. Justice Sutherland, another of the conservatives, which took place January 18, 1938. The measure was upheld, with only two justices dissenting ( United States v. Bekins, 304 U. S. 27). Ed.]

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