Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court

Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court

Jeff Shesol

Language: English

Pages: 656

ISBN: 0393338819

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

"A stunning work of history."―Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of No Ordinary Time and Team of Rivals

Beginning in 1935, the Supreme Court's conservative majority left much of FDR's agenda in ruins. The pillars of the New Deal fell in short succession. It was not just the New Deal but democracy itself that stood on trial. In February 1937, Roosevelt struck back with an audacious plan to expand the Court to fifteen justices―and to "pack" the new seats with liberals who shared his belief in a "living" Constitution. 16 pages black-and-white photographs















at the president’s insistence, carried out his work covertly. No one—not Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust,” not his cabinet—was to know of the plan until the last possible moment. The plan was this: to pack the Court. Roosevelt would subdue the Court’s conservatives by outnumbering them. In an audacious gambit, he would ask Congress to enlarge the Court’s membership to fifteen—adding, essentially overnight, up to six liberals to the bench. He would obscure this, his true goal, in trumped-up concerns

struggle to the death.” Clarke was unyielding. Finally, bowing to his “sense of delicacy,” FDR suggested that the ex-justice make one, simple point: that Court-packing was “entirely constitutional.” This would give the speech the feel of an argument—when it was really only stating the obvious. Critics had called the Court plan ruinous, pointless, fascistic, rash, and worse, but few had questioned its constitutionality. Regardless, on the night of March 22—only hours, it turned out, after the

colleague, Homer T. Bone of Washington, a loyal New Dealer who was already in the Oval Office with Roosevelt. Inviting Wheeler was Bone’s idea; he had just told the president that Wheeler might be open to finding a way out of a bruising public battle. Whether Bone had good reason for his hunch was unclear, but Roosevelt quickly acceded. The Montanan arrived several minutes later. “Burt,” the president began, as Wheeler was brought in, “I just want to give you a little background on the Court

strength is gone. A soldier has fallen with face to the battle.” He spoke of Robinson as a “greatly beloved friend” and a progressive: “Those who knew Joseph Taylor Robinson best,” Roosevelt said, “recognized in him the qualities of true liberal thought.” At noon, Senator Hattie Caraway of Arkansas, wearing a black dress, rose in the Senate chamber to make the official announcement of the majority leader’s passing. Expansive tributes followed. “With a grim gameness he traversed the long, hard

“Suggested Constitutional Amendments,” United States Law Review, Vol. 69, No. 8, August 1935: 393–96. Sullivan, Mark. “The Supreme Court as It Is Today,” Congressional Digest, December 1933: 296–98. “Supreme Court Justices as Presidential Candidates,” United States Law Review, Vol. 69, No. 8, August 1935: 396–408. Sutherland, William A. “Politics and the Supreme Court,” American Law Review, Vol. 48, 1914: 390–402. Tompkins, Raymond S. “Princes of the Press,” The American Mercury, Vol. 12, No.

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