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By the author of acclaimed books on the bitter clashes between Jefferson and Chief Justice Marshall on the shaping of the nation’s constitutional future, and between Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney over slavery, secession, and the presidential war powers. Roosevelt and Chief Justice Hughes's fight over the New Deal was the most critical struggle between an American president and a chief justice in the twentieth century. The confrontation threatened the New Deal in the middle of the nation’s worst depression. The activist president bombarded the Democratic Congress with a fusillade of legislative remedies that shut down insolvent banks, regulated stocks, imposed industrial codes, rationed agricultural production, and employed a quarter million young men in the Civilian Conservation Corps. But the legislation faced constitutional challenges by a conservative bloc on the Court determined to undercut the president. Chief Justice Hughes often joined the Court’s conservatives to strike down major New Deal legislation Frustrated, FDR proposed a Court-packing plan. His true purpose was to undermine the ability of the life-tenured Justices to thwart his popular mandate. Hughes proved more than a match for Roosevelt in the ensuing battle. In grudging admiration for Hughes, FDR said that the Chief Justice was the best politician in the country. Despite the defeat of his plan, Roosevelt never lost his confidence and, like Hughes, never ceded leadership. He outmaneuvered isolationist senators, many of whom had opposed his Court-packing plan, to expedite aid to Great Britain as the Allies hovered on the brink of defeat. He then led his country through World War II.
This dramatic history illuminates the uniquely American conflict between constitutional reverence and popular politics. New York Law School prof Simon (Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney) spotlights the struggle between a conservative Court under Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, which struck down key New Deal measures in the 1930s, and a frustrated President Franklin Roosevelt, who counterattacked with a proposal to "pack" the Court with sympathetic appointees. Much of the book is a high-contrast dual biography of the two men Roosevelt the impatient pragmatist, brushing aside legal restraints on federal action to drag the country out of the Depression; Hughes the Republican jurist, devoted to principle and precedent. Yet Simon's colorful profiles show how much these adversaries shared Hughes made his name investigating corporate malfeasance and supported civil rights, labor reforms, and welfare programs and how both contributed to a revolution that demolished outdated constitutional dogmas while preserving constitutional forms. With the present-day Court poised to rule on health care reform amid controversies over the government's power to address economic turmoil, Simon's account of a very similar era is both trenchant and timely. 8 pages of b&w photos.