Franklin D. Roosevelt

Memorandum Approving a Bill for Judicial Reform

August 26, 1937

On the fifth day of February, I brought to the attention of the Congress the necessity of a careful and thorough-going reformation of our Judicial processes and submitted tentative plans outlining essential objectives.

These objectives, recognized as desirable by most of our citizens, were. predicated on the necessities of a great and growing nation. Many of us have viewed with concern the widening chasm between the people on the one side and the courts and the bar on the other—a chasm recognized and deplored by many of our ablest and most enlightened judges and lawyers. It can hardly be doubted that our people are restive under the slow and uncertain processes of the law.

I spoke, therefore, for an upbuilding process, not only to preserve the independence and integrity of the Judiciary, but to reinforce it and strengthen it as an essential and honored part of our institutions.

In effect, I spoke in behalf of the American people in their desire for increased respect for, and confidence in, speedy and fundamental justice as represented by the Federal Courts.

We have wanted to bring to an end a trying period during which it has seemed that a veritable conspiracy existed on the part of many of the most gifted members of the legal profession to take advantage of the technicalities of the law and the conservatism of the courts to render measures of social and economic reform sterile or abortive. Because representative Government, in order to succeed, must act through the processes of law, it is necessary for it to attain a high degree of cooperation among its three coordinate branches.

In the light of the above, therefore, let us examine H.R. 2260 which is a Bill effectuating certain changes in judicial procedure. It contains meritorious provisions and registers a moderate and limited advance into a field which calls for further and more complete exploration.

On the side of omission, it leaves entirely untouched any method of relieving the burden now imposed on the Supreme Court.

It provides no increase in the personnel of the lower courts-an increase confessedly necessary.

It provides no effective means of assigning district judges to pressure areas.

It sets up no flexible machinery, with methods of administration readily adaptable to needs as they arise.

It leaves untouched the crowded condition of the dockets in our lower courts.

It provides for no flow of new blood to any of the Federal benches.

It does not touch the problem of aged and infirm judges who fail to take advantage of the opportunity accorded them to retire or resign on full pay.

All of these are objectives which are of necessity a part of any complete and rounded plan for the reform of judicial processes.

The Bill, on the other hand, contains several provisions which are definitely a step in the right direction. It provides that the Attorney General shall be given notice of constitutional questions involved in private litigation and accords the Government the right to defend the constitutionality of the law of the land. No longer must the Government stand idly by, a helpless spectator, while Acts of Congress are stricken down by the Courts.

It expedites appeals to the Supreme Court in such matters.

It seeks to improve intolerable situations created by the reckless granting by the lower courts of injunctions to restrain Government officials in the operation of Federal statutes.

It tends slightly to relax the rigid system within circuits of assigning district judges to congested areas.

All of these provisions possess merit and are either a part of, or consistent with, the plans originally submitted to the Congress.

Under this Administration the Department of Justice has made great advances in that portion of the field of judicial reform which relates to crime and criminals. It has sponsored improvements in the rules of practice and procedure in the lower courts. The Bill moves in the same general direction of reform, and I have therefore given it my approval.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Memorandum Approving a Bill for Judicial Reform Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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