(Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes - Senator Alben W. Barkley - Message bearers)
(Note: This is a repost from 2009 - the memory jog continues)
1937 was the year President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a bill which would raise the number of Justices sitting on the Supreme Court bench from 9 to 15. He also added mandatory retirement at 70. Since many of the sitting Justices were at or beyond that age, Roosevelt foresaw a wholesale revamping of the court. Critics (among whom were former President Herbert Hoover) were hostile to the bill and its ramifications, calling it "Court Packing" and claiming it would would give FDR limitless power to enact more New Deal legislation.
Nonetheless, FDR set out to establish a series of "Townhalls" which were set up all over the country to get public support of his plan. Cabinet and Senate members who were loyal supporters of FDR and judicial revamping put forth the Presidents case for the bill.
Ickes: “ What have the President’s opponents been able to say to you? The Chief Justice and two other justices, the three averaging the age of 78, have told you that a court of nine judges is more efficient than a court of more than nine judges. But at the same time they serve notice that they would refuse to answer questions which might reveal whether a court of nine judges efficient in torturing the Constitution, might possibly be less desirable to the people of America than a court of more than nine willing to give men, women, children and democracy a chance to live.”
Barkley: “In a democracy, no public institution is above the power of public criticism. The ancient doctrine of the court as sacred and inviolate is vanishing in the light of common sense and reason. I do not mean by this that the courts, as institutions are not entitled to our respect, or that their decisions should not be obeyed. But I mean that the mere fact that they are called courts, and have the power of decision over the rights of the people does not render them immune from public scrutiny.”
After much intense lobbying on FDR's part - the bill went down to a 20-70 defeat in the Senate.