The Supreme Court: Taft Court, 1921 to 1930

Taft Court, 1921 to 1930

Taft is not remembered as a great president, but he never really wanted to be there. His first love was the Supreme Court and he finally made it there in 1921 when he was appointed as chief justice by President Warren G. Harding. Taft was a strong leader at the court and many said he was the strongest leader since Taney.

Taft's court led an attack on regulatory legislation. His court invalidated minimum-wage laws for women in industry, overturned consumer laws, ruled unconstitutional laws protecting the unemployed from being exploited by employment agencies, and even overturned tax laws.

Adkins v. Children's Hospital

The most extreme example of the Taft Court's regulatory attack was Adkins v. Children's Hospital in 1923. In 1918, Congress passed a law that guaranteed a minimum wage to women and children employed in the District of Columbia. When making its ruling, the Court found this law infringed on the constitutional right of liberty of contract by requiring employers of adult women to satisfy the minimum wage standards, which the Court ruled a “price-fixing law.”

Chief Justice Taft, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Edward Sanford dissented from this decision, saying that Congress did have the policing power to correct recognizable evils. The case held as precedent until 1937 and prevented social legislation from being introduced in legislatures around the country.

Taft's major legacy to the court was its future building. Using his political skills he worked with the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee to get appropriations for the Supreme Court building. He never lived to inaugurate the new building though. That honor went to his successor in 1935. Taft was forced to resign from the Court in February 1930 for health reasons and died a month later.

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.