Shaping the Government

After the Great Depression President Franklin Roosevelt created the New Deal initiative to jump start the country’s economy. In order to provide relief, legislation like the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Wagner Act, just to name a few, were put in place. Unfortunately, President Roosevelt’s plan was not met with open arms and there was much resistance from the Supreme Court.

The nickname of the four conservative Justices who opposed most pieces of the New Deal legislation where Justices Pierce Butler, James McReynolds, George Sutherland, and Willis Van Devanter. This example of the Separation of Powers shows us how the Supreme Court can really limit the power of the president on legislation.

We can look at Black Monday as an example of the Courts unanimous opposition to the New Deal legislation. On May 27, 1935, the court announced unconstitutional decisions on three cases dealing with President Roosevelt’s policies. The cases were Humphrey’s Executor v United States, Louisville Joint Stock Land Bank v. Radford, and Schechter Poultry Corp v. United States.

President Roosevelt was not completely helpless, he had a plan to swing the Supreme Court votes into his favor. This new legislative initiative was called the “court-packing plan” and would have granted the President the power to appoint additional Justices to the Supreme Court for every current member of the court over the age of 70. And there could only be a maximum of 6 new appointees, enough to sway the odds into the New Deal favor.

This interaction between the Supreme Court and the President is a great example of how the branches can influence each other. And how when the ideology of the majority of the court is different from that of the president we see resistance and tension. Are we sure that this much power of the Supreme Court is a good thing? What if President Roosevelt’s New Deal initiative could have helped the country climb out of the economic great depression sooner if they would have been upheld? These are important questions we need to think about in regards to the power of the Supreme Court. I know that earlier in my blog posts I was fully behind having a powerful Supreme Court to maintain justice in our government, but now I am not so sure.

Of course this power struggle is not only between the judiciary and the executive, we can also see problems between congress and the president when they are of different party’s, often road blocking each others legislation. And if they are not actively blocking legislation they are threatening to knock it down or filibuster. Balance of power is very important, but what good is the government if they can not make any progress? Just something to think about.

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