Why Was the Episode Surrounding the Court-Packing Plan Significant

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Uncategorized

But on the doctrinal front, the government had won the war. Beginning with Parrish, Supreme Court decisions that upheld the regulatory power of government set the model for the balance of Roosevelt`s presidency and for nearly half a century thereafter. The ideology that had hindered the New Deal and parallel state legislative efforts to control private economic relations has faded into the background. The Court had gone through what some commentators have called a “constitutional revolution.” But the apparent incentive for a reversal was largely attributed to the initiative to wrap up the courts, which, ironically, was one of Roosevelt`s most embarrassing defeats. The Wickard decision effectively gave Washington the right to regulate almost everything under the sun and ground, thanks to the Constitution`s intergovernmental trade clause. The dam that held back federal power has been broken. Since then, a never-ending stream of federal regulations has emerged. The vast administrative state of Washington is built on the Wickard decision and many others. They are all based on the political dominance of the Democrats on the Supreme Court, which was won after the threat of court hearings in 1937. As for the Wickard decision itself, it remains. Perhaps the most annoying question is why Roosevelt didn`t simply abandon the plan when the battle with the court was clearly won. No one knows the exact answer.

As sociable of all presidents, FDR was also one of the most guarded and inscrutable. Was it an inappropriate sense of empowerment that came from the 1936 election? Was this the kind of internal stubbornness that had prevailed with Congress in the past? Robert H. Jackson, a Roosevelt confidant and future judge, arrived at this general assessment: “The president was not a legalistic person. He was not an economically minded person. He was a strong thinker of good and evil, often relying on quotations from Scripture. Some things just weren`t good from his point of view. After witnessing so many Supreme Court decisions that he felt were simply inappropriate, Roosevelt embarked on a path of redress that he followed to the end. The way the drama unfolded is a study of the capricious character of the story. Why is Roosevelt`s victory still important? For two reasons. First of all, it`s important because progressives are trying to repack the court. And while his efforts are unlikely to succeed (as they are now realizing), it is fueled by the hope that the threat of a trial will once again intimidate sitting justices, especially Chief Justice John Roberts, who has repeatedly shown that he wants to avoid any conflict with the president or Congress. The recent outcry could also intimidate President Biden`s new Judiciary Committee and urge its members to recommend packing lower courts.

(More on that later.) Second, it is important because Roosevelt`s short-packing episode was crucial to the overhaul of American politics, especially the growth of the centralized state. This growth was only possible because the Supreme Court yielded to Roosevelt`s demands and approved his regulatory programs. No topic is more important today. This is especially true now that the Biden administration is attempting another huge expansion of federal power, the largest since President Lyndon B. Johnson in the mid-1960s. Several other facts reinforced the irony. Many contemporary observers noted the timing of Justice Roberts` apparent change from an undecided voter against the regulatory legislation to an undecided voter in favor of it, a dramatic change described as the “time change that saved nine people.” There is every reason to believe that Roberts was influenced by the courts bill. However, the facts are more complex.

Roberts actually gave his critical voice in the Parrish affair at least two months before Roosevelt announced his plan. Chief Justice Hughes had postponed the release of the decision to accommodate Justice Stone, who had been temporarily incapacitated due to illness. Moreover, Roberts had never shared the content ideology of The Four Horsemen. As he noted in his 1934 5-4 majority Nebbia decision, which maintained New York`s controls over milk prices: “Neither property nor contractual rights are absolute.” If this was Roberts` view nearly three years before the short-packing initiative, something else must have happened in all the decisions that had rejected so much of the New Deal regulation. To President Roosevelt`s surprise, his plan to reform the Court was seriously criticized. The press quickly started talking about FDR`s “short-packing” plan. The president has been compared to Hitler when it comes to seeking dictatorial powers. Even some liberal New Deal Democrats in Congress have voiced reservations. With these victories, the president lifted the blockade of the court. He may have lost the battle of Congress; it may have misjudged public opinion; But he had won the war. It was a monumental victory, one that would ultimately allow liberals and progressives in big government to reshape the U.S. government with judicial approval.

And when it became clear that the Supreme Court was no longer an obstacle to their plans, they immediately began working on it. This standard story about Roosevelt`s proposal for court packing is correct so far. Where he comes out of the articulation is when he concludes that Roosevelt lost the battle for the courts. It is also wrong to say that the “loss” isolated the Court from domestic political pressure.