Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

July 23, 1937

THE PRESIDENT: Some of you older people will be very glad to welcome an old Washington friend of yours, Senator Simmons of North Carolina. He has not been down here for a long time. (Applause)

Outside of that I don't think there is any particular news. I am going down the river at ten o'clock tonight. Senator Barkley is going with me and I think Bob La Follette and his wife.

Q. Do you plan any further campaign with regard to the Supreme Court?

THE PRESIDENT: Further campaign?

Q. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't made any campaign; I sent a message to the Congress.

Q. Do you have any further efforts in mind?

THE PRESIDENT: They are still working up there.

Q. Can you give us a comment on the situation, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I don't know that any comment is necessary.

I think it goes back, just for background, to fundamentals and objectives just the same way we talked about right along. There were, as you know, certain original objectives.

Well, go back to the days when Senator Simmons was here, in his early days, even.

There was a lot of feeling back in T.R.'s time about the need for judicial reform. It took the form, in the 1912 campaign, of the Progressive Party asking for all kinds of things like recall of judges and overriding of decisions by popular vote. Well, the interesting thing was that for about fifteen or twenty years that demand on the part of a very large group of Americans had an enormous effect on the courts, as you all know.

Even as late as 1924 the elder Senator La Follette and Senator Wheeler, on the La Follette-Wheeler ticket, ran on a platform that demanded all kinds of drastic things. And, during those years when there was agitation for judicial reform, there were some pretty effective results. The courts listened and they legislated (laughter)—I mean they decided (laughter)- it is the same thing—they made their decisions more on judicial lines than on legislative lines. Of course later on, when the cry had died during the Coolidge administration and the Hoover administration, there was a great deal more in the way of legislative action on the part of the courts. Of course, the people of the country have always realized that courts should be judicial and not legislative.

The same thing had to be done again this year. The result was a message for the improvement of the whole judicial system. It is rather interesting that a good part of that objective has already been obtained, temporarily. I say, "temporarily," but I hope permanently. I was getting a rather interesting check on what has happened, a comparison between what has happened and this past term of the Supreme Court. Before the 5th of February, the Supreme Court held the Triple A unconstitutional, limiting the Federal spending power. After the 5th of February, through the Social Security case, they, in effect, overruled the Triple A case. It was a new interpretation of Federal spending and taxing power.

Before the 5th of February they held the Guffey Act unconstitutional, limiting the Federal commerce power, and after the 5th of February they held the Wagner Act constitutional, reversing the Guffey case. It was a new interpretation of the Federal commerce power.

Before the 5th of February they held the New York Minimum Wage Law unconstitutional, limiting the states through the due process clause. They reversed that in the Washington Minimum Wage case, overruling the New York Minimum Wage case, which was a new interpretation of the due process clause applied to the states.

The net result is that we have obtained certain objectives, talking in the large.

The country still wants assurance—I put it this way—assurance of the continuity of that objective, and the country, of course, wants a better judicial mechanism by giving maximum justice in minimum time.

On that, of course, bringing it down to the current situation, there is nothing more that I can say except that the general purpose back of the Barkley letter last week—put it this way—naturally, it is the duty of the President to propose and it is the privilege of the Congress to dispose.

There has been another very great gain, and that is that the country, as much as and probably more than in the 1910 to '12 era, is not only Court-conscious, but it is Constitution minded, which is a tremendous factor. The people understand pretty thoroughly today, the great majority, that the Constitution is not intended to block social and economic reforms through Court legislation, if those social and economic reforms are necessary to the Nation for its general welfare with changing times.

So, that is the current situation—again looking at the forest and not the trees.

Q. Are you satisfied with it, sir, as far as it has gone?

THE PRESIDENT: With the progress so far?

Q. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we are getting somewhere, but we have a long ways to go because the country, I think, really pretty well understands what it is all about.

Q. How much of that is off the record?

THE PRESIDENT: You can use it all for background. . . .

Q. Have you, sir, had any satisfactory conversations with Congressional leaders as to what further legislation might be desirable?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Fred [Essary], I think the only thing one can say about that is that if you go through the messages you will find that there are quite a number of recommendations that have been made. Again, they are up to the President to suggest and to the Congress to act on, one way or the other. They have three methods of acting on them. One is not acting at all; another is to reject them, and another to put them through.

There are quite a number of those things which—again for background—are rather essential to the future of the country. There is a certain element which need not be named, you know them, I might say, better than I do, who say, "Let us go home and do nothing."

I had a very prominent publisher come in the other day, and he said, "What do you want anything new for? Why, everybody is so prosperous, they don't know what to do. The crops are big and the prices for crops are fine and there is more employment, reemployment, all the time in industry than ever before."

And I said to him, "You are an old man, like me. You remember as far back as the Coolidge administration. You remember the attitude in those years of 1927 and 1928 and 1929, the first three-quarters of 1929. 'Everything is lovely, boys; don't rock the boat. Everything is fine. Everybody is making money. Look at the Stock Exchange. Everything is grand. The first thing you know we will have one chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage, if we just let everything alone.'"

"Well, of course, there are a lot of things," I said to him, "but I will just cite one simple example. Suppose, for the sake of argument, we do not do anything about cotton crops. Well, this year Nature has been good to us and we are raising, I don't know what, fourteen and a half million bales of cotton— something like that. Now, we have the cotton carryover cut down to a pretty reasonable point so that it is not hanging over the market, it is not depressing prices. Well, if this fourteen and a half million bale crop materializes- they still have to pick most of it, all of it in fact- we probably cannot possibly use for export all of that crop. It means we will add a lot to the surplus. Suppose Nature is good again next year, and, by the way, they put cotton into the ground in Southern Georgia and Northern Florida around the end of February and beginning of March. Suppose they raise another fourteen and a half million bales next year and the Government does not do anything about it? It is always possible we might see 8 cent cotton again or 7 cent cotton or 6 cent cotton."

Now, that is very hard to answer, and this particular publisher found it hard to answer. He finally said, "Well, let Nature take its course." I said, "Yes, you see what happened in 1929 when Nature was allowed to take its course."

I just cite that as an example. You can go on with that in relation to all the other crops, to wages and hours, reorganization of Government, housing, all those things.

There is the situation. It is in the lap of the Legislative Branch of the Government. It is tied up with what the future of the country is going to be, whether it is going to be uncontrolled with the possibility of 1929 over again, or controlled by reasonable legislation that will seek to prevent a crash. . . .

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

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