Today in Legal History: Roosevelt Announces Court Packing Plan

By 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was becoming increasingly frustrated after the Supreme Court struck down several pieces of “New Deal” legislation intended to alleviate the worst problems of the depression.  FDR felt the best response was simply to make the current Supreme Court majority into a minority.  There is no constitutional provision for how many justices can sit at one time.

The court packing plan involved adding a justice for every justice over the age of 70 ½, which at the time meant six justices (Supreme Court Justices cannot be forced to retire).  Roosevelt announced the plan in one of his fireside chats.  This created an outcry and was met with resistance by Congress and the press.

Shortly after the court packing plan was announced, the Supreme Court unexpectedly changed voting patterns in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937) and then again, in Carter v. Carter Coal Co, 298 U.S. 238 (1936).  This change became known as the “switch in time that saved nine.”

More information is available at:

  • FDR’s Fireside Chat
  •  Nine Men; a Political History of the Supreme Court from 1790 to 1955 by Fred Rodell (1955) (Law Library 4th Floor @ KF8748.R63)
  •  The Supreme Court and the Presidency by Robert Scigliano (1971) (Law Library 4th Floor @ KF8748.S34)
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