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FDR and Chief Justice Hughes: The President, the Supreme Court, and the Epic Battle Over the New Deal Hardcover – February 7, 2012
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“A spectacular book, brilliantly conceived and executed – an illuminating window into the question of the ages: Who has the power? The President, Congress or the Supreme Court?”
“Franklin Roosevelt once called Charles Evans Hughes the finest politician in the United States. In this marvelously written, meticulously researched study, James F. Simon demonstrates why that was so. He also shows that except for their brief confrontation in 1937, in which Hughes prevailed, these two former governors of New York shared a deep affection for one another. Together they led the United States into the modern era.”
—Jean Edward Smith, author of FDR and John Marshall: Definer of a Nation
“The story of this relationship, as historically significant as any between a President and Chief Justice, is brilliantly unfurled by James Simon. Fresh, often moving, and hugely readable, it's a textbook case of statesmanship - and politics - at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue."
—Richard N. Smith, author of The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., on Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney:
“James F. Simon has written an exciting and notable book where Abraham Lincoln and Roger B. Taney, the president and the chief justice, two men of the highest intelligence and passionate judgment, argued the future of this democratic republic.”
Joseph J. Ellis, The New York Times Book Review on What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall:
“A study of the political and legal struggle between these icons of American history….A major contribution….A model of the narrative history written by someone who knows the law.”
About the Author
James F. Simon is the Martin Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus at New York Law School. He is the author of seven previous books on American history, law, and politics, including What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States, and lives with his wife in West Nyack, New York.
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Most other studies of court packing (and I have reviewed a number on Amazon) focus on Congressional developments and FDR's maneuvering. One of the great virtues of this book is that focuses extensively on Chief Justice Hughes as the key opponent of the plan, not Congress. It is generally recognized that a letter drafted by Hughes (with help from Justices Brandeis and Van Devanter) sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, powerfully refuting FDR's claim that the Court was behind in its work and needed more Justices, really was crucial in defeating the proposal. The author is correct to make this episode the centerpiece of the book, and to examine it in depth. Hence the juxtaposition of FDR v. Hughes. This approach has both strengths and limitations.
Its principal benefit is that it introduces this remarkable Chief Justice to newer generations who might never even have heard of him before. The last major biography of Hughes I recall appeared in 1952, shortly after his death in 1948. Since then, Hughes has been largely forgotten, despite his extensive service as Governor of New York, Supreme Court Associate Justice, 1916 GOP presidential candidate against Wilson, Secretary of State, architect of the 1924 Washington arms control conference, president of the American Bar Association, and of course Chief Justice. Most everyone knows something about FDR; now Hughes reclaims his rightful place in American history as well.
The disadvantage of the book's approach is that its length, inter-weaving of multiple themes, and extensive detail may unfortunately discourage the very folks who ought to read it from doing so. Offsetting this is that the author, James F. Simon, has written previously some outstanding studies of the Court and its Justices (including Black, Frankfurter and especially William O. Douglas), and he really knows how to put an effective historical narrative together. So, do not be put off by the heft of this important book; reading it brings a rich treasure trove of historical rewards.