The switch in time that saved nine

The switch in time that saved nine

“The switch in time that saved nine” was the name given by the press to the apparent sudden shift by Justice Owen J. Roberts from the conservative wing of the United States Supreme Court (represented by the Four Horsemen) to the liberal wing (represented by the Three Musketeers) in the case "West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish", 300 U.S. 379 (1937). Roberts joined Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, and Justices Louis Brandeis, Benjamin N. Cardozo, and Harlan Fiske Stone in upholding a Washington State minimum wage law. The term is a reference to the aphorism "A stitch in time saves nine", which means that preventive maintenance is best. [ [ The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition] ]

The decision was handed down less than two months after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced his Court-packing Bill and it was widely seen as a reaction to that bill. Justice Roberts shifted his vote before President Roosevelt actually submitted his court-packing proposal to Congress. However, Roosevelt made his proposal public on March 9, 1937 during his 9th Fireside Chat. The high court's decision in "West Coast Hotel" was not handed down until after Roosevelt's public announcement (the decision was issued on March 29, 1937). Thus, Roosevelt's public announcement may have contributed to Justice Roberts' motivation for switching from his previous freedom of contract decisions. On the other hand, some historians argue that the Justices had voted on the case before the public announcement, so there is an on-going debate among historians on the accuracy of the traditional view. [ [ The Boston Globe — “Supreme switch: Did FDR’s threat to ‘pack’ the court in 1937 really change the course of constitutional history?”] ]

The switch together with the resignation of Justice Willis Van Devanter a month later are often viewed as having contributed to the defeat of the Bill, preserving the size of the US Supreme Court at nine justices, as it remains to this day.


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