The Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937 (frequently called the "court-packing plan") was a legislative initiative proposed by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to add more justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. Roosevelt's purpose was to obtain favorable rulings regarding New Deal legislation that had been previously ruled unconstitutional. The central and most controversial provision of the bill would have granted the President power to appoint an additional Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, up to a maximum of six, for every sitting member over the age of 70 years and 6 months.
During Roosevelt's first term, the Supreme Court had struck down several New Deal measures intended to bolster economic recovery during the Great Depression, leading to charges from New Deal supporters that a narrow majority of the court was obstructionist and political. Since the U.S. Constitution does not mandate any specific size of the Supreme Court, Roosevelt sought to counter this entrenched opposition to his political agenda by expanding the number of justices in order to create a pro-New Deal majority on the bench. Opponents viewed the legislation as an attempt to stack the court, leading them to call it the "court-packing plan".
The legislation was unveiled on February 5, 1937 and was the subject, on March 9, 1937, of one of Roosevelt's Fireside chats. Shortly after the radio address, on March 29, the Supreme Court published its opinion upholding a Washington state minimum wage law in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish by a 5–4 ruling, after Associate Justice Owen Roberts had joined with the wing of the bench more sympathetic to the New Deal. Since Roberts had previously ruled against most New Deal legislation, his perceived about-face was widely interpreted by contemporaries as an effort to maintain the Court's judicial independence by alleviating the political pressure to create a court more friendly to the New Deal. His move came to be known as "the switch in time that saved nine." However, since Roberts's decision and vote in the Parrish case predated the introduction of the 1937 bill, this interpretation has been called into question.
Roosevelt's initiative ultimately failed due to adverse public opinion, the retirement of one Supreme Court Justice, and the unexpected and sudden death of the legislation's U.S. Senate champion: Senate Majority Leader Joseph T. Robinson. It exposed the limits of Roosevelt's abilities to push forward legislation through direct public appeal and, in contrast to the tenor of his public presentations of his first-term, was seen as political maneuvering. Although circumstances ultimately allowed Roosevelt to prevail in establishing a majority on the court friendly to his New Deal agenda, some scholars have concluded that the President's victory was a pyrrhic one.
Read more about Judicial Procedures Reform Bill Of 1937: The New Deal Goes To Court, Black Monday, Further Setbacks, Antecedents To The Judicial Procedures Reform Bill, Senate Hearings, White Monday, Consequences, Timeline
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