FDR seeks sweeping judiciary reform

By United Press

WASHINGTON -- President Roosevelt today proposed to Congress sweeping reform of the judiciary, including the right for him to appoint as many as six new Justices of the Supreme Court if present Justices over 70 years old do not choose to retire.

The President's proposals, submitted in a special message to Congress, were immediately referred to Judiciary committees of both House and Senate for speedy consideration.


The sensational proposal of the President was submitted after consultation at an emergency session of cabinet officers and congressional leaders.

Mr. Roosevelt's plan, submitted on the controversial Wagner Labor Act brought the New Deal squarely to grips with the frequently discussed issue of constitutional change and Supreme Court reform.

Mr. Roosevelt asked authority to appoint additional Federal court judges and Justices in all cases where the sitting judge has reached the age of 70 and does not choose to retire.


The draft of proposed legislation submitted by Mr. Roosevelt contain ed a proviso that the Supreme Court membership should not be Increased to more than 15 justices under this program. Since six of the present high court justices have reached the age of 70, Mr. Roosevelt would be empowered to name six more Justices under the proposal.

The President's plans, submitted to Congress with a suggestion that New Deal forces on Capitol Hill quickly move to enact them into law, provided:

1. That in each instance where a Federal judge reaches the age of 70 and fails to retire, the President be empowered to name an additional judge, providing such appointments do not increase the number of Supreme Court justices above 15 nor 50 for the judiciary as a whole.

2. That no Federal court be allowed to issue any decision or injunction involving constitutional questions without ample previous notice to the go-rmment; and that Immediate appeais of all such questions be allowed direct to the Supreme Court, such appeals taking precedence over all other matters pending in the Supreme Court.

3. That transfers and shifts of Federal judges be allowed from district to district in order to speed up court business.


4. That the Supreme Court be provided with an additional officer to be termed a proctor, charged with watching all Federal court business in order to expediate and facilitate it.

Six members of the United States Supreme Court are 70 or over. They are: Charles Evans Hughes, 74; Willis Van DeVanter, 77; James Clark McReynolds, 75; Louis Dembrita Brandeis, 80; George Sutheitond, 74; and Pierce Butler, 70.

The three other members of the Supreme Court and their ages are: Harlan F. Stone, 64; Owen J. Roberts, 61; and Benjamin N. Cardozo, 66.

Mr. Roosevelt said his purpose in the proposed changes:

"Is to strengthen the administration of justice and to make it a more effective servant of public need."

The President declared flatly that his proposals were to be considered as his present decision of the question of whether the nation needed a constitutional amendment. He expressed belief that if his proposals were effective no constitutional amendment and no fundamental change in the powers of the court would be necessary. He said:

"If these measures achieve their aim, we may be relieved of the necessity of considering any fundamental changes In the powers of the courts or the constitution of our government changes which involve consequences so far-reaching as to cause uncertainty as to the wisdom of such course."


Mr. Roosevelt referred to his plans a proposal so vast virtually to remake the personnel of the Federal bench as a program similar to his far-reaching suggestions for the revision and consolidation of government departments and agencies.

The two plans together would provide a reorganization . of government offices and courts more weeping than any within the modern history or the Federal Government.

The President struck vigorously at what he described as "government by injunction." This, he charged, "lays a heavy hand upon normal processes," pointing out that no law can take final, authoritative effect until it has passed through "the whole hierarchy of the courts."

He charged that the effect of this in practice was to set up the judiciary as an unofficial and extra ordinary legislative arm of government.

"The judiciary," Mr. Roosevelt charged, "by postponing the effective date of acts of Congress, is assuming an additional function and is coming more and more to constitute a scattered, loosely organized; and slowly operating third house of the national legislature."

The extraordinary import of Mr. Roosevelt's message was emphasized by the manner in which it was submitted to Congress. Before the proposal was sent to Capitol Hill it was discussed at an unusual early morning assembly of administration figures at the White House.


When read to the House membership -- many of whom did not anticipate the proposal -- the chamber was only half-filled.

Radio microphones were set up to carry the message broadcast to the nation.

First congressional reaction -- largely from leaders who had been previously advised as to the purport of the plan -- promised thorough and probably favorable consideration of the plan.

Speaker of the House William A. Bankhead described it as a "sound principle" for Judicial reform and prophesied the House would act upon the program after extensive hearings, probably with a few modifications.

In support of his legislative program for increasing the membership to the Supreme Court, Mr. Roosevelt asserted that:

"The attainment of speedier Justice in the courts below will enlarge the task of the Supreme Court itself and still more work would be added by the recommendation which I make later in this message for the quicker determination of constitutional questions by the highest court."

He pointed out that there was nothing new about proposals for Increasing the number of Suprsne Court justices.

"In almost every decade,' he said, since 1789, changes have been made by the Congress whereby the numbers of Judges and the duties of judges in federal courts have been altered in one way or another.


"The Supreme Court was estab lished with six members in 1789; it was reduced to five in 1801; it was increased to seven in 1807; It was increased to nine in 1837; it was increased to ten in 1863; it was reduced to seven in 1866; it was in creased to nine In 1869."

Mr. Roosevelt said the Supreme Court was already laboring under difficulties due to the heavy press of litigation.

"It seems clear," he said, "therefore that the necessity of relieving present congestion extends to the enlargement of the capacity of ail the Federal Courts.

"A part of the problem of ob taining a sufficient number of judges to dispose of cases is the capacity of the Judges themselves. This brings forward the question of aged or Infirm judges a subject of delicacy and yet one which requires frank discussion."

Mr. Roosevelt pointed out that in "exceptional cases, of course. Judges, like other men, retain to an advanced age full mental and physical vigor. Those not so fortunate are often unable to perceive their own infirmities."

The result of this infirmity, Mr. Roosevelt described as leading "men to avoid an examination of complicated and changed conditions."

"Little by little, new facts become blurred through old glasses, fitted as It were for the needs of another generation; older men, assuming that the scene is the same as it was in the past, cease to explore or Inquire into the present or the future.


"A constant and systematic addition of younger blood will vitalize the courts and better equip them to recognize and apply the essential concepts of Justice in the light of the needs and the facts of an ever-changing world."

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