FDR's Campaign to Pack the Supreme Court
Sales Date: February 17, 2023
144 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in
- Published: February 2023
- Published: August 2023
- Published: February 2023
Nothing embodied Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaign to lastingly embed the New Deal in the major institutions of American government more than his effort to pack the Supreme Court. Vaulting Ambition, the inaugural volume in the Landmark Presidential Decisions series, presents a balanced assessment of FDR’s 1937 effort to fundamentally change the highest court in the land.
Unlike most work on the subject, Michael Nelson centers his study on the president’s series of decisions to reform the Court, rather than on the Court’s responses. At the heart of the book is an analytical narrative of FDR’s crusade to expand the Court and pack it with those sympathetic to his cause. While keeping this story front and center, Vaulting Ambition also presents the Court-packing effort as part of FDR’s larger campaign to shape the executive branch bureaucracy, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Democratic Party all in service to enduringly entrench the New Deal into US government and politics.
Although FDR never achieved the mastery over the entire federal government that he sought, his efforts to expand and transform the three branches of government and the Democratic Party were of great consequence and endured long beyond his tenure. Nelson offers a clear understanding of how FDR’s campaign sheds essential light on today’s raging controversy over changing the Supreme Court.
“Franklin D. Roosevelt was justifiably frustrated by Supreme Court decisions that struck down New Deal programs, but his attempt to pack the court with sympathetic Justices caused an uproar that seriously damaged his relations with Congress. Michael Nelson meticulously reconstructs Roosevelt’s fateful decision-making and the alternatives he rejected. The issue remains as timely as today’s headlines.”—Donald A. Ritchie, author of Electing FDR: The New Deal Campaign of 1932
“How did the maestro of modern presidential politics, Franklin D. Roosevelt, blunder into an ill-fated scheme to pack the Supreme Court? In a fresh and insightful narrative, Michael Nelson takes us step-by-step through Roosevelt’s decision-making process and its spate of erroneous assumptions. Here is a tale of hubris—and its costs—on the grand scale.”—Bruce Miroff, author of Presidents on Political Ground: Leaders in Action and What They Face
“Vaulting Ambition: FDR’s Campaign to Pack the Supreme Court is distinguished political scientist Michael Nelson’s brief but detailed analysis of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision-making process. Nelson offers a fresh look behind the scenes at FDR’s plans and how they impacted institutions such as the executive branch, Congress, and the Democratic Party. Highly recommended for anyone interested in this formative era of US politics and its legacy.”—Jeffrey Crouch, coauthor of Newt Gingrich: The Rise and Fall of a Party Entrepreneur
“Any POTUS who wins smashing reelection, with strong majorities for his party in the House and Senate, should study Vaulting Ambition assiduously to prepare for the second term. Michael Nelson’s dissection of the attempt by FDR to pack the US Supreme Court will be especially compelling whenever the Justices face sustained attack. Vaulting Ambition mixes trenchant political analysis with rich historical detail, providing a delightful read and serious insight into presidential politics.”—W. Taylor Reveley III, president emeritus, The College of William & Mary“This dramatic, provocative, and concise account of FDR’s court fight is perfect for classroom use. Highly recommended!”—Laura Kalman, author of FDR’s Gambit: The Court Packing Fight and the Rise of Legal Liberalism
Foreword by Barbara A. Perry
Prologue: January 6, 1937
1. FDR, the Executive Branch, and the Supreme Court: Relief, Reform, and Resistance
2. To Do or Not to Do?
3. The 1936 Election: FDR Decides Not to Decide
4. The President Proposes
5. The Senate Disposes
6. Did FDR Succeed?