FDR and Chief Justice Hughes
The overlooked story of the hardworking justice who stood up to one of America's most popular presidents – and won a victory for posterity.
One of the central subplots in the history of the New Deal is the relationship between President Roosevelt and the Supreme Court.
In FDR and Chief Justice Hughes, James F. Simon, a professor at New York Law School who has written a number of well-received books about the history of the Supreme Court, focuses on the events that lead to this epic conflict and its aftermath. He does this by providing alternating, in-depth biographical sketches of both Roosevelt and Hughes and the paths that led them to their respective positions. The sections devoted to Roosevelt are well done but familiar given the large number of biographies about the nation’s 32nd president.
By contrast, despite an extraordinary life and career, Chief Justice Charles Hughes is little remembered today. A graduate of Columbia Law School, his public career began with successful investigations of the utility and insurance industries in New York that lead to significant changes in both industries. This was followed by two successful terms as progressive Republican governor of the Empire State – he and Franklin Roosevelt would later greet each other as “Governor.” President Taft appointed him an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1910 where he quickly gained a reputation as a hard-working justice who often found himself (along with Oliver Wendell Holmes) representing the liberal wing of the court, usually in dissent.
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