Judicial Agenda of President Franklin D. Roosevelt Essay

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Judicial agenda of President Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Judicial Philosophy and Agenda of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR)

Especially in light of today's economic crisis, the reputation of the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt is viewed as sacrosanct. However, Roosevelt's term in office was ridden with many controversies, particularly during the early days of his New Deal that have since been forgotten. One of the most contentious quests Roosevelt embarked upon was his attempt to expand or 'pack' the U.S. Supreme Court with new justices, when the elderly, conservative members of the Court proved unwilling uphold the constitutionality of critical aspects of his New Deal legislation. Because of the Supreme Court's intransience, FDR feared his entire social vision and economic recovery program was going to be railroaded by unelected, old men in black robes. Roosevelt's fundamental philosophy about the relationship of the executive branch and the judicial branch was that the purpose of the government was to serve the people, and to preserve the nation. If that meant overriding the U.S. Supreme Court, so be it -- the executive branch was directly elected by the populace. In his Fireside Chat on the Reorganization of the Judiciary, March 9, 1937, Roosevelt said what was soon dubbed his 'court packing plan' would "provide a reinvigorated, liberal-minded judiciary necessary to furnish quicker and cheaper justice from bottom to top."Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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Essay on Judicial Agenda of President Franklin D. Roosevelt Assignment

FDR was determined to bring the nation back from economic ruin. Many people wanted America to revert to total socialism, and FDR feared the specter of radicalism, as manifest in Russia at the time. He also feared the foot-dragging of conservative Republicans who agreed with the former President Herbert Hoover's contention that the business cycle would correct itself. Even more so than President Obama today, when Roosevelt assumed the presidency in 1933, the nation was in an economic, political, and moral crisis. America was depressed and in the midst of a Great Depression. Thus Roosevelt initiated unprecedented government regulation over the economy. He devalued the dollar and placed American industries and agriculture under a system of controls, codes and production quotas (Pusey 1958). But in 1935, Supreme Court declared one of the key features of FDR's alphabet soup of programs, the National Recovery Administration (NRA)'s unconstitutional and Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote a unanimous Supreme Court decision that effectively neutered the NRA and its Blue Eagle program (Pusey 1958). The Blue Eagle was a government seal of approval that went to any business that pledged support for the NRA (Lord 2003). Blue Eagle businesses had minimum wages, ceilings on hours and allowed workers the right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining. FDR encouraged consumers to only patronize Blue Eagle businesses (Lord 2003).

The case that struck down the NRA, in another interesting parallel with today involved food poisoning. A company was marketing diseased chicken in violation of the NRA's poultry code. Their lawyers contended only that Congress had no power to regulate local business. The court used this case to invalidate the whole industrial recovery act. It said Congress and the President had illegally extended federal control over what were local business activities that were not related to interstate commerce (Pusey 1958). In 1936, the Court struck down the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) farm subsidy bill, ruling that the states, not the federal government, had the power to regulate agriculture. Soon after, a majority struck down the Bituminous Coal Conservation Act and New York State's minimum wage law for women -- only the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) providing electricity to an impoverished community survived ("Presidential politics: FDR," the American Experience, 2009).

After his sweeping re-election, Roosevelt moved against the court. He introduced a bill with a provision giving the President authority to name an additional federal judge for every incumbent who had been on the bench ten years and had not resigned within six months after reaching the age of seventy, including justices on the Supreme Court (Pusey 1995). FDR believed that this would make the Court more responsive to the needs of the time, by limiting both the tenure and the age of Court. "As six members of the Supreme Court… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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