Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

April 13, 1937

Q. Mr. President, in your Message to Congress of January sixth you asked the Judiciary to aid in making democracy successful. Have you any comment on the decision of the Supreme Court?

THE PRESIDENT: Not on the record. All I can tell you for the record is that of course these opinions are very long and I have only read them over in a very cursory way last night. I have not had a chance to read them with any care and therefore any comment at this time must be withheld.

Off the record, and really off the record and just in the family, I have been chortling all morning, ever since I picked up the papers. I have been having a perfectly grand time. When I picked up one of the papers, the dear old Herald-Tribune, and saw the editorial entitled, "A Great Decision," I harked back, and I got Steve to do a little digging for me and he found just exactly what I thought he would find. It is a joy. It goes back to—what is the date of that—September, 1935, when a committee of very, very distinguished lawyers calling themselves The National Lawyers' Committee and operating under an organization known as The American Liberty League—this is all off the record, what are you taking this stuff down for? (Laughter)

Q. You may change your mind. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: No, I won't change my mind; this is off the record. They got a committee to make a very careful analysis of the Wagner Labor Relations Act and they concluded that it was thoroughly and completely unconstitutional. On September 21, 1935, the Herald-Tribune carried a beautiful editorial called, "Thumbs Down on the Wagner Act," citing with complete approval the unanimous opinion of the lawyers' vigilance committee, saying that it was a splendid opinion, and warning the country as to what would happen if an Act like that could possibly be found constitutional. And now, this morning, they come out with "A Great Decision." Well, I have been having more fun. (Laughter)

And I haven't read the Washington Post, and I haven't got the Chicago Tribune yet. (Laughter)Or the Boston Herald. Today is a very, very happy day. . . .

Q. The Postmaster General put out a postscript to his speech in Philadelphia tonight in which he makes this observation: "The circumstance that by a single vote the Court sustained the validity of several New Deal measures furnishes no security of permanent liberalism on the high bench." Could we get back on the record far enough to say whether that represents your view?

THE PRESIDENT: I had no idea of what he was going to say; but I will speak off the record and tell you what Eddie Roddan said yesterday when he got the gist of the decision. He said, "Well, we have all been wondering about this 'No Man's Land.' We have been worrying about the future of the country as long as the 'No Man's Land' continued to exist. Well, in the last two days the 'No Man's Land' has been eliminated but see what we have in place of it: We are now in 'Roberts' Land.'" (Laughter)

Q. Was your guess as to what the decisions were going to be better than your guess about the election?

THE PRESIDENT: I never guess on the Supreme Court. (Laughter)

Q. Getting back to the central question, will this have any effect on the desire for the Court Reorganization Bill you submitted?

THE PRESIDENT: Let us switch from off the record and I will give you a little bit of background, Ray [Tucker], on the assumption that I am not credited with it in any way. I will simply put it in this way as long as you do not attribute it to me. It is perfectly true, I had a great many people in yesterday afternoon, last night and today, and they have all been asking the question. A cursory reading of the majority opinion in the three manufacturing cases seems to limit the extension of the old doctrine to the three specific cases before the Court, and limit it also to the one phase of interstate commerce involved, that is, collective bargaining.

Now, people are coming in and saying to me, "Well, Mr. President, how about other things? Could we in any way tell from these decisions whether the same judicial policy would be extended to things like child labor, for example, like the old child labor act that was held unconstitutional, or to a law affecting minimum wages in factories manufacturing goods that go into interstate commerce, or even a law relating to the five-day week or a maximum number of hours per week?" Those are the questions that are being asked and, of course, frankly, I say to them, "Well, what do you think? . . . Well," they say, "the Lord only knows!"

In other words, these people who have been talking to me feel that the reversal, or whatever you choose to call it, applies only to those three specific cases affecting collective bargaining. As to how far the decision will be extended to other phases of interstate commerce, they say, "The Lord only knows."

Of course you can draw several conclusions as to what the next step is: Where do we go from here? Have we any assurance, and so forth and so on? I should say—mind you, this is all background and not to be attributed to me in any way-my guess would be the feeling of the average man and woman on the street is, "So far, so good, but—" and then, perhaps, the old phrase, "So what—". That is about as far as we have gotten in twenty-four hours, "So what?"

Q. You said something about the policy at the outset; you said something about extension of the old doctrine?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I was referring to the language in the old Carter Coal Case, about manufacturing, mining and agriculture being purely local issues, which was cited with approval in the Chicago case. Well, that was what we call, generically, the old doctrine; and that was, insofar as these three cases were concerned, reversed in yesterday's decision.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives