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Judicial Restraints and Executive Expansion

  • 4 Pages
  • Published On: 12-12-2023

The era of the New Deal started with the rise of President Franklin D. Roosevelt replacing the former President Herbert Hoover and his failed economic policies. This was the time of economic depression. President Roosevelt saw the government as a tool to address the economic crisis (Schaller, et al., 2017, p. 8).The ‘First Hundred Days’, which was the first three months of his government in 1933, saw a number of laws aiming to stabilise and regulate the faltering economic system (Schaller, et al., 2017). This was the start of the New Deal era.

This essay will assess whether or not the legislative power faced checks and restraints from the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court. It proposes that by the end of the New Deal era, the Federal Government gained more power with lesser checks from the judiciary.

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The New Deal era started with the Supreme Court reversing key legislations terming them unconstitutional. The year between 1934 and 1936 saw the Supreme Court holding unconstitutional key New Deal legislation, such as the National Industrial Recovery Act 1993 and Agricultural Adjustment Act, (AAA) 1933 on the ground that the Congress has limited power under the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution in regard to economy, set wages or workplace rules (Schaller, et al., 2017, p. 27).

For instance, the Supreme Court in 1936 overturned the then newly created Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) under the AAA 1933 (Schaller, et al., 2017, p. 11). In United States v Butler Et Al., Receivers Of Hoosac Mills Corp., Mr. Justice Roberts addressed the issue of whether or not the respondents could question the validity of floor tax on cotton levied under the Act of 1933 (United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936), 1936). The Government contended that the respondents did not have any standing to question the validity of the tax as the Act of 1933 was merely a revenue measure the proceeds of which went into the federal treasury (United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936), 1936, p. 57).

Mr. Justice Roberts held that terming the exaction from the processors, which are the respondents, as a tax or terming it could not be questioned was incorrect (United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936), 1936, p. 61). The Act of 1933 regulated agricultural production and the tax is a mere incident and hence, the respondents could challenge the legality of the exaction. In addition, Mr. Justice Roberts also held that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and all legislation must conform to it. The court has the duty to determine whether or not a legislation conforms to the Constitution (United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936), 1936, p. 62). Mr. Justice Roberts further stated that the power of the federal government is conferred or delegated by the States. The judiciary cannot recognise a political system where all legislative power is without any limit and is vested in a parliament or a legislative body (United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936), 1936, p. 63).

Mr. Justice Roberts held that the Constitution provides the frame of special and enumerated powers of the national government, which are not general and unlimited powers. Thus, the power to lay taxes cannot be a general power and is limited to the object of the general welfare of the country (United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936), 1936, p. 66). The Act cannot be constitutional as it invades the reserved rights of the states (United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936), 1936, p. 68). The Federal government has powers delegated by the States. The taxing power that it exercises can be valid only when the states voluntarily cooperate (United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936), 1936, p. 70). This cannot be said about the concerned Act. Any appropriation for any government purposes cannot justify any contracts that are not within the power of the federal government (United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936), 1936, p. 73).

The Supreme Court had also declared the National Industrial Recovery Act 1993, which created the National Recovery Administration (NRA), as an unconstitutional overreach of federal authority in 1935 (Schaller, et al., 2017, p. 11). In the case of A. L. A. Schechter Poultry Corp. et al. v. United States, particular concerned with the issue related to the President’s power to approve codes of fair competition, also termed the ‘Live Poultry Code’ under Section 3 of the Act of 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that extraordinary conditions do not enlarge the constitutional powers, which are subject to the limits granted by the Constitutional (A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935), 1935, p. 34).

In Schechter, the Supreme Court held that the Tenth Amendment provides that the demarcation between the state and the Federal government powers (A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935), 1935, p. 35). The US government cannot abdicate or transfer its essential legislative functions to others (A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935), 1935, p. 35). This is in regard to the power given to the President to approve the code. The Congress cannot delegate this legislative power to the President, who can exercise an unlimited discretion (A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935), 1935, p. 43). The Court thus held that the Act does not have any precedent and standards. It authorises the President to make codes to prescribes rules of conduct. Hence, such power is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power (A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935), 1935, p. 48).

The reversal of legislation passed by the Congress did not deter the Roosevelt government to enact more laws. The time during 1935, called the ‘Second Hundred Days,’ saw the Congress enact more far-reaching reform legislation, including the Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act, and other Works Progress Administration employment program (Schaller, et al., 2017, p. 15). However, in the case of West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish , the Supreme Court’s ruling was found aligning with the legislative intent of the Congress concerning the Minimum Wages for Women law (West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish 300 U.S. 379 (1937), 1937). This case concerns a claim brought by chambermaid against a hotel company in order to recover the difference between the amount of contractual wages paid or tendered and a larger amount computed based on the law (West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish 300 U.S. 379 (1937), 1937, p. 380). The Supreme court considered the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment against the prohibition of deprivation of liberty without due process of law (West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish 300 U.S. 379 (1937), 1937, p. 391). It held that the state can interfere when the parties are not in equal bargaining positions or in public interest. In that context, the Court ruled that the claimants were properly placed and that the minimum wage was fixed considering the interest of employers, employees and the public and services performed in particular occupations under normal conditions. Hence, the provision was made for special licenses at less wages regrading women that could not perform full service (West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish 300 U.S. 379 (1937), 1937, p. 396).

The news perspective of the Supreme Court is not surprising as during that time the judiciary started supporting the federal government. The court supported the New Deal. With conservative justices retiring and one conservative justice joining the liberal justices, by 1944, President Roosevelt had a total of eight Supreme Court justices, who supported more power to the federal government to regulate business, the economy, labour conditions, and the environment (Schaller, et al., 2017, p. 28). President Roosevelt seems to have succeeded in carrying out the members of both parties, who complained about what they called the “court packing scheme,” which the alienated members of both the parties termed his attempt to adjust the size of the Supreme Court environment (Schaller, et al., 2017, p. 28). In his public speech on 9 March 1937, the clash between this government and the Supreme Court could be seen. He did not find support from the Courts, which he stated had doubts on the ability of the Congress in regard to his policies governing social and economic conditions (ROOSEVELT, 1937). He had also stated that the two organs of the government, which are the Congress and the Executive were united but the third organ, which is the judiciary, was not in unison. In his speech he used the Constitution to demand all organs of the governments, and all the state government to come together under the federal government to give all the powers to the Congress (ROOSEVELT, 1937). He, however, cited the bold powers of the courts that had reversed legislations terming them as a policy making body and determining the wisdom of the legislations. He referred to the dissenting judgment, for example Chief Justice Hughe on Railroad Retirement Act unconstitutional held that the majority ruling placed unwarranted limitation on the limitation clause, to validate his points (ROOSEVELT, 1937).

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President Roosevelt had justified legislation of the Congress by citing an urgency to address the national economic crisis (ROOSEVELT, 1937). He saw the Supreme Court as the only obstacle. He called to saving the Constitution from the Court based on his argument that the Constitution intended for a Union and promotion of general welfare. The Congress was given the power for common defense of the nation and its general welfare. He saw the courts the only factor that had been creating imbalance between the three organs of the federal government (ROOSEVELT, 1937).

The Supreme Court was performing its balancing duty to determine legislation and powers of the Federal Government against the validity provided by the Constitution through key case rulings, such as Butler and Schechter. However, it changed position recognising the powers of the government as being provided by the Constitution justified for use in the general welfare of the country. The case ruling in Parrish is a good example. The Roosevelt government succeeded in executing its ‘court packing scheme’ with liberal justices in the Supreme Court supporting the executive and its power. Therefore, it could be said that the executive gained more powers than the judiciary at the end of the new deal.

Bibliography

Schaller, M. et al., 2017. American Horizons. s.l.:Textbooks.com.

United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936) (1936).

A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935) (1935).

West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish 300 U.S. 379 (1937) (1937).

ROOSEVELT, F. D., 1937. Fireside Chat.. [Online] Available at: https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/fireside-chat-17 [Accessed 20 03 2021].


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