FDR and the Supreme Court

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FDR and the Supreme Court

The federal courts’ most important power is that of judicial review, the authority to interpret the Constitution. Roosevelt to add more justices to the U.S. Supreme Court in order to obtain favorable rulings regarding New Deal legislation that the Court had ruled unconstitutional. When federal judges rule that laws or government actions violate the spirit of the Constitution, they profoundly shape public policy. Roosevelt was incorrect in trying to influence the Supreme Court’s decisions. The approach would make the court more political, putting its independence in jeopardy. Critics contended that since the president and members of Congress are exempt from age restrictions, federal judges should be exempt as well.

Others maintained that the Constitution, not the Supreme Court judges, was undoing Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. The most eloquent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee may have never appeared in person. Chief Justice Hughes entered the political fight by presenting a letter to the committee, which Senator Burton K. Wheeler read to the committee (D-Mont.). The Supreme Court is “fully abreast of its business,” Hughes noted in his letter. He dismissed the idea that adding more justices will improve the court’s efficiency. “There would be more judges to hear, more judges to confer, more judges to discuss, more judges to be convinced and to decide,” the top justice reasoned.

The court has had as few as five seats and as many as ten over the course of American history, the current or future president can strive to raise the number of justices and the court for political reasons. Although the Constitution mandates the existence of a Supreme Court, it does not specify the number of justices who will serve on it. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt suggested raising the number of seats in Congress to 15, but the idea was controversial, and it died in Congress in part because the Supreme Court reversed numerous previous judgments that had damaged the New Deal.


Gresko, Jessica (2018). “For lawyers, the Supreme Court bar is vanity trip”. Florida Today. Melbourne, Florida. pp. 2A.Lawson, Gary; Seidman, Guy (2017). “When Did the Constitution Become Law?” Notre Dame Law Review. 77: 1–37.