Why FDR Wouldn't Give Up His 'Court-Packing' Plan

The Great Depression of the 1930s was the nation's grimmest economic crisis since the founding of the American republic. After the 1932 elections, Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced a series of innovative remedies—his New Deal—but the entire recovery effort seemed threatened when the United States Supreme Court invalidated significant pieces of its legal foundation. Eventually Roosevelt proposed his so-called “court-packing” bill to circumvent the Court's unfavorable rulings. The events that followed qualify as one of the stranger chapters in the constitutional history of the United States.

Roosevelt brought relentless energy and creativity to Washington following his election in 1932. The problems before him were unprecedented in depth and scope. Since the crash of the stock market three years earlier, five thousand banks had failed, wiping out over nine million accounts. At least 25 percent of the work force was unemployed; national income was less than half what it had been in 1929. In the first hundred days of the new administration, Roosevelt and his team of advisors attacked the crisis with a panoply of legislative measures—an emergency banking act, a series of employment relief acts, a bill to refinance defaulted mortgages, and laws shoring up agriculture and regulating Wall Street. New instrumentalities of government were conceived—among others, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), the Public Works Administration (PWA), and the National Recovery Administration (NRA)—thereby introducing the “alphabet agencies” that soon became a familiar feature of the New Deal.

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