Roosevelt's Great Defeat: The Court Packing Fight of 1937


  • Amy Trujillo Wichita State University


Franklin Delano Roosevelt, New Deal, Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), National Recovery Administration (NRA), federal aid, Great Depression, government overreach, Burton K. Wheeler, unconstitutional, United States Supreme Court


Throughout the history of the United States, the president has often quarreled with the Supreme Court over matters of policy and the Constitution, but rarely has a president tried to overhaul the Court to accomplish his goals. At the start of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's second administration in 1937, the nation faced a crisis as the President attempted to change the Court that had obstructed his attempts to alleviate the effects of the Great Depression. While Roosevelt was understandably frustrated with the Supreme Court's thwarting of his policies, the actions he took were too drastic to be tolerated by the majority of the population. While many felt that the Supreme Court was getting in the way of the New Deal legislation, few felt that the President had the right to attempt to change it. Opposition to this plan extended from Washington, D.C., to the rural United States as people realized its implications. The fact that Roosevelt was popular and had just won a huge victory in the 1936 presidential election did not necessarily mean that he had the support of the public in such an unprecedented move as to pack the United States Supreme Court. As Roosevelt stubbornly pursued his plan, the reactions of the people and changes in the policy of the Court made it impossible for Roosevelt to win. The events of 1937 eventually handed Roosevelt the greatest defeat he had as President.