The Supreme Court in Crisis: A History of Conflict

By Robert J. Steamer | Go to book overview

7.
Stone, Vinson & Warren: Retreat, Rejuvenation & a New Crisis

WHEN Harlan Fiske Stone became chief justice in 1941 the general tone of the Court's opinions had already changed considerably from the pre-1937 era. In fact, the change in attitude was discernible immediately after the 1937 crisis before President Roosevelt had the opportunity to name any new justices. (In addition to elevating Stone to Chief from associate, President Roosevelt appointed eight new justices prior to his death. Justice Roberts did not retire until the beginning of the Truman incumbency.) The decade 1937-47 might best be characterized as a revisionist period in which the justices scrupulously avoided the overturning of acts of Congress while declaring unconstitutional numerous state laws in areas varying in kind from the rights of Negroes to intergovernmental tax immunity. While the Court had recognized the changed and ever-changing role of the states in the Union since the Civil War, from the late 1930s onward there appeared to be a greater judicial awareness that the United States had truly become a nation and that any doctrinaire defense of "states rights" made little sense practically or constitutionally. Thus, the new revisionism recognized that the national government alone was capable of dealing with national problems, and concomitantly that the states must not interfere with the enlarged national sphere. This was not, however, a creative judicial period, but simply one in which the Court took into account the force of history in writing its opinions. At the same time it was a cautious Court in that it did not go as far as it might have to contain the powers of the states. Nevertheless much of what it began was extended sharply in the 1950s and 1960s, and some of the Roosevelt appointees were instrumental in effecting both the

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