EMBOLDENED by his landslide electoral victory in the election of 1936 and frustrated with an old, conservative Supreme Court, to which he had yet been able to appoint a justice and that he perceived was intent on slowing down the progress of the New Deal, President Roosevelt made a bold and perhaps miscalculated decision to direct an internal shift in the power of the judicial branch.
The make-up of the Hughes Court when Roosevelt took office was relatively balanced. Of the nine justices, the conservative coalition of McReynolds, Van Devanter, Sutherland and Butler often clashed with the liberal justices, Brandeis, Stone and Cardozo, with Justice Owen Roberts and Chief Justice Charles Evans remaining more or less moderate. While at first the Court had accepted most of Roosevelt's programs, in the previous two years, led by Chief Justice Hughes, it had ruled in several cases that the executive branch had unconstitutionally assumed powers reserved for the legislature. The Court invalidated portions of New Deal measures including, in Schecter v. United States, the price-fixing powers of Title I of the NIRA and also in U.S. v. Butler. Additionally, the court had abrogated the Bitumonious Coal Conservation Act (BCC) (also called "Little NIRA") and portions of the Agricultural Adjustment Act, among others. While angry over what he saw in those cases as an attempt to undermine his program, when conceiving his court packing plan Roosevelt was perhaps most concerned with the Court's impending decisions on the Wagner Act (National Labor Relations Act) and the Social Security Act.
Validating the concerns of many who felt that the executive was attempting to assume too much power and infringing on the independence of the other two branches, the judicial reorganization plan sparked intense opposition and mobilized conservative New Deal foes. Adding fuel to the fire was a series of political miscalculations by the president, costly mistakes that would eventually lead to the end of the New Deal. Angered that they had not been consulted prior to his announcement and aggravated by what they saw as territorial encroachment, Senate Democrats provided some of the strongest resistance to his proposal. But the negative response was not from Congress alone. The Chief Justice fought vigorously against reorganization, at one point providing court records as evidence to debunk Roosevelt's criticism and demonstrate the Court's efficiency. Neither the media nor the American public stayed silent long, using a barrage of editorials and letters to Confgress, respectively, as their battle weapons.
Roosevelt had a Court he could live with (he would eventually appoint eight justices while in office) but the damage had been done. The election of 1936, in which he had campaigned against some anti-New Deal Democrats, along his proposal and political handling of judicial reorganization had secured him numerous enemies.