“Court Packing” Bill

   Following a succession of decisions by the Supreme Court striking down key measures in the New Deal, including the National Industrial Recovery Act and Agricultural Adjustment Act, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was anxious to ensure support for subsequent reform measures. In 1937, he presented a court reorganization act before Congress, making it possible to increase the number of justices from nine to 15 on the basis of a new appointment for any judge over the age of 70 who did not retire. The bill was met by considerable congressional and public protest and rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee. While Roosevelt tried to win over public opinion in a “fireside chat” in March 1937, the Court itself responded with the “switch in time that saved nine” and on March 29 reversed an earlier decision against minimum wage legislation. It went on to uphold both the Social Security Act and National Labor Relations Act. Additionally, as justices, beginning with Willis Van Devanter, began to retire, Roosevelt was able to appoint replacements more sympathetic to the New Deal. As a result, the proposed bill was replaced with one incorporating minor reforms of lower court procedures. Nonetheless, the “court packing” incident was important as it demonstrated the limits to which the New Deal could go. It was also significant in encouraging opposition from conservative Democrats and thus weakening the president’s power base in Congress.
   See also Borah, William Edgar.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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