FDR and Chief Justice Hughes
The President, the Supreme Court, and the Epic Battle Over the New Deal
By James F. Simon
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781416573289, 480pp.)
Publication Date: February 7, 2012
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By the author of acclaimed books on the bitter clashes between Jefferson and Chief Justice Marshall on the shaping of the nation’s constitutional future, and between Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney over slavery, secession, and the presidential war powers. Roosevelt and Chief Justice Hughes's fight over the New Deal was the most critical struggle between an American president and a chief justice in the twentieth century.
The confrontation threatened the New Deal in the middle of the nation’s worst depression. The activist president bombarded the Democratic Congress with a fusillade of legislative remedies that shut down insolvent banks, regulated stocks, imposed industrial codes, rationed agricultural production, and employed a quarter million young men in the Civilian Conservation Corps. But the legislation faced constitutional challenges by a conservative bloc on the Court determined to undercut the president. Chief Justice Hughes often joined the Court’s conservatives to strike down major New Deal legislation.
Frustrated, FDR proposed a Court-packing plan. His true purpose was to undermine the ability of the life-tenured Justices to thwart his popular mandate. Hughes proved more than a match for Roosevelt in the ensuing battle. In grudging admiration for Hughes, FDR said that the Chief Justice was the best politician in the country. Despite the defeat of his plan, Roosevelt never lost his confidence and, like Hughes, never ceded leadership. He outmaneuvered isolationist senators, many of whom had opposed his Court-packing plan, to expedite aid to Great Britain as the Allies hovered on the brink of defeat. He then led his country through World War II.
James F. Simon is the Martin Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus at New York Law School. He is the author of seven previous books on American history, law, and politics, including What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States, and lives with his wife in West Nyack, New York.
“A spectacular book, brilliantly conceived and executed – an illuminating window into the question of the ages: Who has the power? The President, Congress or the Supreme Court?”
“Franklin Roosevelt once called Charles Evans Hughes the finest politician in the United States. In this marvelously written, meticulously researched study, James F. Simon demonstrates why that was so. He also shows that except for their brief confrontation in 1937, in which Hughes prevailed, these two former governors of New York shared a deep affection for one another. Together they led the United States into the modern era.”
—Jean Edward Smith, author of FDR and John Marshall: Definer of a Nation
“The story of this relationship, as historically significant as any between a President and Chief Justice, is brilliantly unfurled by James Simon. Fresh, often moving, and hugely readable, it's a textbook case of statesmanship - and politics - at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue."
—Richard N. Smith, author of The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., on Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney:
“James F. Simon has written an exciting and notable book where Abraham Lincoln and Roger B. Taney, the president and the chief justice, two men of the highest intelligence and passionate judgment, argued the future of this democratic republic.”
Joseph J. Ellis, The New York Times Book Review on What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall:
“A study of the political and legal struggle between these icons of American history….A major contribution….A model of the narrative history written by someone who knows the law.”