How Did Critics View The Judicial Review Bill Under Roosevelt?

How Did Critics View The Judicial Review Bill Under Roosevelt

Also known as the court-packing plan of 1937 was an initiative that was proposed by then-president Franklyn Roosevelt. It was created with the primary purpose of adding more justices to the Supreme Court justices to get favorable rulings as regards the new-deal legislation which the court ruled as unconstitutional. The bill sought to give the president enormous power to the president to appoint up to a maximum of six.

The Judiciary Act of 1869 saw the establishment of the fact that the Supreme Court would be made of eight associate justices and the Chief Justice. During the first tenure of Roosevelt saw several New Deal measures been struck down by the Supreme Court. This was what motivated Roosevelt to reverse the makeup of the Supreme Court by adding more justices. But how did critics view the judicial review bill under Roosevelt? We will take a look at this and a few other issues in this regard.

How did critics view the judicial review bill under Roosevelt?

Critics saw the judicial reform bill under Roosevelt as an attempt targeted as gaining undue influence in the US Supreme Court. The Judicial reform bill was created by Roosevelt to add more justices to the Supreme Court. Because he was the one that proposed these justices, it was felt that they would be more favorably disposed to Roosevelt. It was thus seen as an unethical bill. Following the elections of 1936 where Roosevelt won in a sweeping fashion, he proposed to bring about a reorganization of the federal judiciary by adding another justice every time a justice attained the age of 70 and does not retire. This legislation was made known on the 5th of February 1937. The major critics of the reform back then named Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes stated that there was no congestion of cases on the calendar.

The most critical critics of the bill included Vice President John Garber and some members of the president’s party. The court-packing issue leads to a division of the new deal coalition and meant a reversal of the political advantages Roosevelt had gained during the 1936 elections.

What Was The Origin Of The Bill?

On the back of the crash of Wall Street back in 1929 and the beginning of the great depression, Franklin Roosevelt came out successful in the 1932 presidential elections with a promise to give America a New Deal. This was to boost economic recovery. That period also saw the entrance of a Democratic majority into the houses of Congress thus giving him the needed support. There was a clamor by both the Congress and Roosevelt for more involvement of the government in the economy to put an end to depression. There was opposition in federal courts to the New Deal programs.  It soon became quite obvious that the majority of the New Deal legislation would ultimately be determined by the Supreme Court.

There was a component of the New Deal which may have amplified the faceoff between the Supreme Court and the Roosevelt administration. As soon as Roosevelt was inaugurated, the Economy Act was passed by Congress. This Act reduced the number of government salaries which included the pension received by Supreme Court Justices. The cut in the pension of these Justices meant that some of them were dissuaded from retirement.

The Historical Foundation Of The Court-Packing Process

Court-packing simply stands for a modification in the structure of the Supreme Court which permitted the appointment of more justices. It has gone on to mean a process where politics influences the process of appointment. This definition has been so perverted to imply a process where appointments are made to achieve some personal aim. In the early days, the number of justices in the Supreme Court was a total of 6 representing the number of judicial circuits. The increase in the population of the country meant an increase in circuits and attendant responsibilities.  1937 saw an increase in the size of the Supreme Court from 6 to 8. These initial size changes were not a product of political manipulations.

The most prominent instances of court-packing happened during the most critical points of the history of the country. The first one started during the administration of Andrew Johnson. His administration, for instance, witnessed a lot of challenges within the ranks of government. These battles saw him battling impeachment.

In the case of President Roosevelt, he entered office on the back of a big win against Alf Landon with a resolve to address two pressing issues. The first involved his inability to appoint anyone into the Supreme Court and the second had to do with the rejection of the New Deal. This proposal for court-packing even though noble was seen as an attempt to fill the court with people sympathetic to the government.

The Effect On The Justice Department

The laws that followed Roosevelt’s first three months in an office flooded the Justice department with enormous workload beyond its capacity. There were justice department lawyers who were opposed to the New Deal and were not directly involved in the New Deal process. This difference in ideological leaning made sure that the Justice department was less effective.

The apparent confusion within the justice department implied that the government’s lawyers were not able to come up with a sound defense for their cases. It is believed that the New Deal did not hold was because it was not well drafted.

What Were The Contents Of The Reform Legislation?

There were four basic principles which the bill adhered to. The first was the one that allowed the president to appoint a new younger judge for each federal judge with at least ten years of service that did not retire after attaining 70 years. It also sought to place a limit on the total number of judges which the president would be able to appoint. It stipulated that the president could not appoint greater than 6 Supreme Court justices and not more than two for other lower courts. The third sought to allow lower-level judges to move to district courts which heavy workloads. And finally, it sought to allow the lower courts to be administered by the Supreme Court via Proctors.

The date chosen for the launch of this plan was mainly determined as a result of other events that were taking place. The President wanted a situation where he would present the legislation before the commencement of the oral arguments of the Wagner Act by the Supreme Court. With other factors on hand, Roosevelt had to settle for February 5th. The administration sought to introduce the bill at a time early enough for it to be passed before the summer recess began.

What Was The Reaction Of The Public To This?

Upon the announcement of the proposed legislation, there was a division in public opinion. But the direct involvement of the president meant there was a decrease in the negative feedback. In the party Victory dinner, he gave a speech where he implored party loyalists to back his plan.

This move was followed up with the Fireside chat of March 9 where he made the case to the public directly. He attempted to appeal to the emotion of the people by stating that the majority of the Supreme Court sought to twist the constitution. He made known that the Bill was required to overcome the opposition of the Supreme Court to the New Deal. He stated that the country had gotten to a point where it had to take certain actions to rescue the constitution from the office of the Court.

This strategy meant that Roosevelt earned positive press for his plans even though the eventual response was a rather negative one in the end.  It was deduced that the public was majorly opposed to the bill.

What Was The Reaction Of The House To The Bill?

By default, legislation that is proposed by an administration is supposed to pass through the House of Representatives. But before he announced the Bill, Roosevelt did not consult the leaders of Congress. This greatly affected the chances of the bill being passed in the house. For instance, the Judiciary committee chairman of the house declined to endorse the bill while actively working against it. Due to the stiff opposition the bill faced in the house, it was moved to the senate.

The Republicans in Congress adopted a rather silent disposition regarding the matter. There was however a rather terrible fight in the Senate.


The effect of the judicial review bill under Roosevelt is one that generated a lot of reactions from critics. This was further amplified by the fact that he was a rather controversial leader. This, however, does not take away the fact that he was a great leader who left behind an indelible footprint in the sands of time.

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