Supreme Court

   The Supreme Court is the highest federal court in the land consisting of nine justices, each appointed for life by the president. During the progressive period prior to World War I, the court moved from its predominantly conservative and probusiness position upholding principles of laissez faire to a more reformist stance that recognized that law should respond to social change. The court upheld limitations on working hours where the health and safety of workers—both men and women—were affected but not where it violated workers’ rights to accept whatever working conditions they chose. Regulation of trusts was upheld but increasingly narrowed to apply only to “unreasonable” restraint of trade.
   In the 1920s, the court once more tended to protect business and private property. Warren Harding’s conservative appointments resulted in decisions against child labor laws and a minimum wage law for women but upheld restrictions on trade unions. When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in 1933, the court had a solid bloc of four conservatives—Pierce Butler, James McReynolds, George Sutherland, and Willis Van Devanter. They were often supported by Owen J. Roberts. The liberals on the court were Louis Brandeis, Benjamin Cardozo¸ and Harlan Fiske Stone. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes tended to take a middle position.
   In 1935, the court declared by a five-to-four margin three New Deal measures unconstitutional, including the National Industrial Recovery Act. They also ruled against a number of social reform measures at the state level and in 1936 declared the Agricultural Adjustment Administration unconstitutional. Faced with the possibility that the court would effectively undermine the rest of the New Deal, President Roosevelt attempted to alter the court’s composition. In 1937, he proposed a measure that would allow the appointment of up to six new justices on the basis of one for every sitting justice over the age of 70 who failed to retire. The proposed court reorganization act was seen as “court packing” and was met with considerable congressional and public opposition. However, on 29 March 1937 in the “switch in time that saved nine,” the court reversed itself and ruled in favor of a state minimum wage law in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish. One of the conservatives on the court, Van Devanter also indicated that he would retire. Subsequent retirements allowed Roosevelt to make further sympathetic appointments, and the court increasingly adopted a more liberal position and approved the later reform measures. The court reorganization act was defeated in Congress in July 1937.

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

Look at other dictionaries:

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