On February 5, 1937, Roosevelt sent a message to Congress recommending the reorganization of the judiciary branch of the government. Roosevelt gave two reasons why this needed to be done. First, he said: "The Judiciary has often found itself handicapped by insufficient personnel with which to meet a growing and more complex business...The simple fact is that today a new need for legislative action arises because the personnel of the Federal Judiciary is insufficient to meet the business before them. A growing body of our citizens complain of the complexities, the delays, and the expense of litigation in United States Courts." In other words, he said that there weren't enough judges to do all the work that needed to be done. Second, he said: "A part of the problem of obtaining a sufficient number of judges to dispose of cases is the capacity of the judges themselves. This brings forward the question of aged or infirm judges...In the federal courts there are in all 237 life tenure permanent judgeships. Twenty-five of' them are now held by judges over seventy years of age and eligible to leave the bench on full pay...Life tenure of judges, assured by the Constitution, was designed to place the courts beyond temptations or influences which might impair their judgments: it was not intended to create a static judiciary. A constant and systematic addition of younger blood will vitalize the courts and better equip them to recognize and apply the essential concepts of justice in the light of the needs and the facts of an ever-changing world." In other words, Roosevelt was saying that too many of the judges, including those on the Supreme Court, were too old!
So, where was Roosevelt headed with this? Further in the message he proposed a solution for both of these problems: "I, therefore, earnestly recommend that the necessity of an increase in the number of judges be supplied by legislation providing for the appointment of additional judges in all federal courts, without exception, where there are incumbent judges of retirement age who do not choose to retire or to resign. If an elder judge is not in fact incapacitated, only good can come from the presence of an additional judge in the crowded state of the dockets; if the capacity of an elder judge is in fact impaired, the appointment of an additional judge is indispensable. This seems to be a truth which cannot be contradicted." In the proposed bill attached to the message, the exact details of the plan were made clear:
a) When any judge of a court of the United States, appointed to hold his office during good behavior, has heretofore or hereafter attained the age of seventy years and has held a commission or commissions as judge of any such court or courts at least ten years, continuously or otherwise, and within six months thereafter has neither resigned nor retired, the President, for each such judge who has not so resigned or retired, shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint one additional judge to the court to which the former is commissioned. Provided, That no additional judge shall be appointed hereunder if the judge who is of retirement age dies, resigns or retires prior to the nomination of such additional judge.
(b) The number of judges of any court shall be permanently increased by the number appointed thereto...nor shall any judge be so appointed if such appointment would result in...more than fifteen members of the Supreme Court of the United States...
This proposal would allow Roosevelt to nominate a new Supreme Court justice for every justice with 10 years of service, age 70 or over, who refused to retire, up to a total of 15 Supreme Court justices. In other words, this proposal could increase the total number of justices from 9 to 15! Before any of this could happen, Congress would have to pass this bill into law. Before that could happen, there would be a serious public debate on the plan. The following cartoons are all from that public debate.
Library of Congress (1934)
In this political cartoon, there are three important figures: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Congress, and Uncle Sam. Each of them assumes a role in the cartoon, with FDR as the doctor, Congress as the caretaker, and Uncle Sam as the patient. Uncle Sam represents a sickly America. FDR is the doctor, who has the responsibility to cure or relieve the symptoms of the depression that struck America and its people. FDR gives Uncle Sam many different kinds of “medicine,” including programs like the National Industry Recovery Act, the Civil Works Administration, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act. In addition, FDR is carrying a bag of New Deal “remedies,” which can provide even more relief for America. FDR reassures Congress that the “remedies” do not necessarily guarantee success and changes can be made.
At the time, FDR approved and passed many legislations, in hopes to fix America. Many people were doubting whether these programs would actually help or even make things worst. This political cartoon supports FDR and his policies and puts the New Deal in a positive light. This is because Uncle Sam is shown to be in good spirits, after trying the New Deal medicines. Additionally, the cartoon depicts FDR as a man, who is understanding because he knows that the programs might not work and has a bag of solutions prepared.