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U.S. Supreme Court, photograph, 1937

From 1932 to 1937, the Supreme Court had a conservative bloc called “The Four Horsemen”: Associate Justices Pierce Butler, James Clark McReynolds, George Sutherland, and Willis Van Devanter. Supporting the president’s agenda was a liberal trio, “The Three Musketeers”: Associate Justices Louis Brandeis, Benjamin Cardozo, and Harlan Fiske Stone. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes and Justice Owen Roberts provided critical swing votes.

Seated front (left to right): Associate Justices Louis Brandeis and Willis Van Devanter; Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes; Associate Justices James Clark McReynolds and George Sutherland. Seated back (left to right): Associate Justices Owen Roberts, Pierce Butler, Harlan Fiske Stone, and Benjamin Cardozo.

U.S. Supreme Court Collection, Supreme Court Museum and Archives

U.S. Supreme Court, photograph, 1937

Congress Rejects Court Packing

President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office during the Great Depression and instituted sweeping economic regulations and reforms as “a New Deal for Americans.” With his Democratic party dominating Congress, he pushed through New Deal legislation, but the Supreme Court’s conservative majority declared many key statutes unconstitutional. In 1937 Roosevelt proposed a Judicial Procedures Reform Bill that would have allowed him to expand the Supreme Court and appoint new justices sympathetic to his agenda. Congress strongly opposed the president’s “court packing” plan.

In 1937 the Senate rejected President Roosevelt’s efforts to change the Supreme Court’s structure. Roosevelt’s proposed changes would have allowed him to pack the court with judges who supported his policies, threatening judicial independence.