[SUPREME COURT]. Photograph signed by all nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court, including: Louis D. Brandeis, Willis Van Devanter, Charles E. Hughes, J. C. McReynolds, George Sutherland, Owen J. Roberts, Pierce Butler, Harlan F. Stone and Benjamin N. Cardozo, Washington, D. C., ca. 1936.
Oblong, 10¾ x 12 in., on heavy card, sepia-toned gelatin silver print, embossed mark of Harris & Ewing, Washington, D. C. in lower left corner; traces of mounting along edges.
THE "NINE OLD MEN" THAT FDR TRIED TO STEAMROLL INTO SUPPORTING HIS NEW DEAL LEGISLATION
Five years separated Herbert Hoover's last appointment to the Supreme Court--Benjamin Cardozo--and Franklin D. Roosevelt's first--Hugo Black. But those five years were the most tumultuous since the days when Thomas Jefferson squared off against John Marshall. The Court pictured here struck down several of the key components of Roosevelt's New Deal program in 1935 and 1936, usually by narrow 5-4 margins: the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the National Industrial Recovery Act, and even a New York State labor law banning more than a 10-hour work day. That decision was the last straw for FDR. He became convinced that all of his reform measures were endangered by this Court, and since they wouldn't change their minds, he would change them. He denounced them in the press as nine old men caught in a "horse and buggy" time warp. He asked Congress in 1937 to pass a law allowing him to appoint a new Justice for each member of the Court over the age of 70. Roosevelt's coyly tried to pass off this massive assault as merely an administrative change, intended to lighten the Juctices' workloads. Congress balked and shot down the plan, but the Court nevertheless got the message: there was a limit to their political independence, a point beyond public opinion which they dare not pass.
Suddenly the 5-4 decisions against Roosevelt turned into 5-4 margins in support of the administration. When Justice Van Devanter died in office in 1937, Roosevelt could at last start restocking the Court the old-fashioned way, and he made the first of what would be eight nominations to the high bench. The New Deal court Roosevelt created--dominated by justices like Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, and Felix Frankfurter--would shape American law for two generations.