Has Court-Packing Worked Before?


My Bloomberg Opinion column is about President Biden’s new “Supreme Court reform” commission. One of the topics I take up is whether FDR’s attempt to pack the Court succeeded in intimidating the justices.

The story goes that in 1937 Justice Owen Roberts stopped blocking New Deal legislation because he feared court-packing. He had voted to strike down minimum-wage laws, but joined a majority that upheld a minimum wage weeks after Roosevelt announced his plan to expand the court. It was “the switch in time that saved nine,” a paraphrase of a comment that columnist Cal Tinney made at the time.

There are, however, reasons to doubt this popular account. Most historians agree that the minimum-wage decision was reached before FDR’s announcement, and that opposition to the court-packing effort was unmistakably building before the decision came down.

I go on to address whether today’s justices are likely to be intimidated by the Court-packers.

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