A recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States appears to allow unprecedented interference by private corporations into the political process. The court struck down as unconstitutional a key part of the bipartisan campaign reform which prohibited corporations from using its vast funds to criticize a candidate for federal office within thirty days of a primary election or sixty days of a general election.
Battle Between the Branches
I want - as all Americans want - an independent judiciary as proposed by the framers of the Constitution. That means a Supreme Court that will enforce the Constitution as written, that will refuse to amend the Constitution by the arbitrary exercise of judicial power - in other words by judicial say-so. It does not mean a judiciary so independent that it can deny the existence of facts which are universally recognized.
If we learned anything from the depression we will not allow ourselves to run around in new circles of futile discussion and debate, always postponing the day of decision. The American people have learned from the depression. For in the last three national elections an overwhelming majority of them voted a mandate that the Congress and the President begin the task of providing that protection - not after long years of debate, but now. The Courts, however, have cast doubts on the ability of the elected Congress to protect us against catastrophe by meeting squarely our modern social and economic conditions.
Last Thursday I described the American form of Government as a three horse team provided by the Constitution to the American people so that their field might be plowed. The three horses are, of course, the three branches of government - the Congress, the Executive and the Courts. Two of the horses are pulling in unison today; the third is not. Those who have intimated that the President of the United States is trying to drive that team, overlook the simple fact that the President, as Chief Executive, is himself one of the three horses.It is the American people themselves who are in the driver's seat.It is the American people themselves who want the furrow plowed.It is the American people themselves who expect the third horse to pull in unison with the other two.We have, therefore, reached the point as a nation where we must take action to save the Constitution from the Court and the Court from itself. We must find a way to take an appeal from the Supreme Court to the Constitution itself. We want a Supreme Court which will do justice under the Constitution and not over it. In our courts we want a government of laws and not of men.
Let me answer this question with a bluntness that will end all honest misunderstanding of my purposes.If by that phrase "packing the Court" it is charged that I wish to place on the bench spineless puppets who would disregard the law and would decide specific cases as I wished them to be decided, I make this answer: that no President fit for his office would appoint, and no Senate of honorable men fit for their office would confirm, that kind of appointees to the Supreme Court.But if by that phrase the charge is made that I would appoint and the Senate would confirm Justices worthy to sit beside present members of the Court who understand those modern conditions, that I will appoint Justices who will not undertake to override the judgment of the Congress on legislative policy, that I will appoint Justices who will act as Justices and not as legislators - if the appointment of such Justices can be called "packing the Courts," then I say that I and with me the vast majority of the American people favor doing just that thing- now.
Is it a dangerous precedent for the Congress to change the number of the Justices? The Congress has always had, and will have, that power. The number of justices has been changed several times before, in the Administration of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson - both signers of the Declaration of Independence - Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.
Only weeks into his second term, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took on the U.S. Supreme Court--which had invalidated a series of New Deal programs--by offering a plan to ease the load of the “aged, overworked justices,” whom critics derided as the “nine old men.”The plan would have allowed the president to nominate an additional justice whenever one over age 70 did not resign, until the court had 15 members. And it just so happened that six of the nine justices were already over 70.The proposal was roundly denounced, going down to defeat in Congress. But soon the court began upholding New Deal programs, muting calls for its radical restructuring. Seven justices left the bench over the next four and a half years, allowing Roosevelt to remake the court through traditional means.
Ultimately, Roosevelt's proposed legislation failed when the U.S. Senate voted 70–20 to recommit the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee following the sudden death of Senate Majority Leader Joseph T. Robinson, whose efforts would have been essential to the bill's passage. In recommitting the bill, the Senate explicitly instructed the Judiciary Committee to strip the bill of its court-packing provisions. The entire episode garnered several negative consequences for Roosevelt that lasted through the rest of his administration, leading many scholars to conclude the President's victory was a Pyrrhic one.