Garner, Sumners, and Connally: The Defeat of
the Roosevelt Court Bill in 1937
LIONEL V. PATENAUDE*
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT'S PROPOSAL TO REORGANIZE THE FEDERAL
courts began a year of crisis. Probably he did not realize what a
storm of protest his plan would evoke, for just a few months before
he had been at the peak of his power. Though he had won a personal
victory over the Old Guard in the election of 1936, he knew that they
were still entrenched in the judiciary.' Moreover, the Supreme Court
was obstructing the progress of the New Deal by adverse decisions in
several important cases, notably the invalidation of the National Re-
covery Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, and the Guffey Coal Act
The proposal to revamp the Court gave conservative southerners
a good opportunity to repudiate Roosevelt when he proposed liberal
and progressive measures not to their liking. In Texas the bill served
to crystalize sentiment that was already developing against the New
Deal. Many who had hitherto opposed the administration privately
were now encouraged to state their opposition publicly. Conversely,
many who had defended the New Deal now became more cautious.
The result was increased opposition to Roosevelt's policies by Texans."
While many influential citizens of the Lone Star state were against
the bill, the opposition of a few Texans in Washington was, in the
final analysis, most important. Specifically, Vice-President John Nance
Garner, Representative Hatton Sumners, and Senator Tom Connally
played distinctive roles in the defeat of the proposal.
Before Roosevelt handed Congress his court-reorganization bill on
February 5, 1937, he had told the vice-president that there would be
little else to consider but appropriation bills at this session of Con-
*Lionel V. Patenaude is chairman of the Department of History at St. Mary's University,
"James M. Burns, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (New York, 1956), 297.
2Basil Rauch, The History of the New Deal (New York, 1944), 284; James V. Allred to
L. V. P., March 28, 1952. The Allred Papers, at the University of Houston, may contain
material which would be relevant to this study. However, that collection is not available
for public use at this time.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 74, July 1970 - April, 1971. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101200/. Accessed January 30, 2015.