Today in Supreme Court History

Today in Supreme Court History: July 22, 1937


7/22/1937: The Senate voted down President Roosevelt's Court-Packing plan, 70-20.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

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  1. 70-20

    I see what you did there.

  2. The Court-packing plan was moot by then. The Court had already publicly “switched” with West Coast Hotels v. Parrish, and Van Devanter had retired, allowing FDR to fill his seat and all but guarantee a 6 – 3 dominance. Ironically (or perhaps not) FDR, listening to deficit hawks, began to reverse some of his policies, with the result that 1937 was a return to economic disaster.

    1. The last sentence is slightly wrong, but it’s wrong in a very telling way.

      The economy was not doing well in 1933-36. It was doing terrible. It got a little less terrible, but there were still bread lines, double digit unemployment, huge internal migrations, etc. The Depression lasted the entire decade.

      There’s been a bunch of FDR revisionism driven by Democrats in academia who want to make it sound like there was this big recovery and then the post-’37 austerity drove us back into depression (perhaps motivated by a desire to make economic stimulus sound more effective than it was), but that’s not at all true. The country was in horrible shape throughout FDR’s first term, and the best you can say about the New Deal is it contained some direct aid (in the form of things like WPA/CCC/TVA jobs, which were good for their recipients). It didn’t solve the depression and did not even come close to doing so. Only World War II did that.

      1. 1937 was a return to some of the worst of 1932 – 1933 (I remember old folks telling me that) and it’s not disputed that FDR tacked “right” in 1936 – 1937, possibly so that his actions would pass muster with the Court.

        The New Deal put a lot of people to work and (just as important) created a national sense of “we can pull together”. Of course WW II did that even more. Further the securities framework set up in 1933 – 1934 are the reason we haven’t had another depression since, so in that sense, the New Deal did “solve” the depression.

        1. The argument that FDR did a bunch of great long term stuff is undeniable (also Social Security).

          The argument that FDR’s jobs programs helped their direct recipients is also undeniable.

          But FDR failed to solve the depression, which was global, by the way. It was beyond American capability to solve. FDR’s dip into austerity wasn’t the reason it went on so long, and at worst that made things slightly worse.

  3. I remember seeing an analysis (on 538) of the decline and growth of the economy in the 1930s compared to what would be expected with historical growth rates. By 1937, it had made it about halfway back after four years of moderate growth, but it was down so much in 1933 it would have taken another six or seven years to reach 1929 levels. As it was, the second wave of the depression set us back several years.

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