The Supreme Court
Hughes Court, 1930 to 1941
President Herbert Hoover selected Charles Even Hughes as the next chief justice. He had a reputation for running the court in a military-like matter. He led the case-decision conferences by spelling out what he considered to be the key issues of the case and did not allow discussion to deviate from those points.
Hughes took over the court when the country was in a state of economic crisis following the stock market crash of 1929. The conservative activists on the Court had just prevailed with Adkins and were ready to take on any laws they found offensive. The court ruled unconstitutional all of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal legislation up to 1937.
The New Deal was a series of legislative initiatives proposed by Roosevelt to get people back to work by establishing various federal work projects. Roosevelt also formed the Federal Emergency Relief Administration to provide federal monetary assistance to the most desperate people. Social Security also became law during this period of time.
Roosevelt then went on the offensive and tried to pack the Court by proposing legislation on February 5, 1937 that would allow him to appoint a justice for every justice over 70 who did not retire. If this had passed Roosevelt would have been able to appoint six new Supreme Court justices. The president lost the battle, but his warning to the Court changed the Court's attitude. Before the Court-packing plan was considered in Congress, the Hughes Court ruled in 12 separate cases overturning every piece of New Deal legislation. By the time the fight was over in Congress, even though Roosevelt did not get his bill, the Hughes Court upheld every piece of New Deal legislation.
Prior to the successful enactment of New Deal legislation, the government's primary role was national defense. The government also supported the status quo including some limitations to be sure there was some semblance of fair play. Essentially the principle of laissez faire prevailed. That principle did not stand the test of time to solve the pressing economic problems and bring the country out of the Great Depression.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Supreme Court © 2004 by Lita Epstein, J.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.