Charles Evans Hughes


Charles Evans Hughes : biography

April 11, 1862 – August 27, 1948

Hughes as Chief Justice swore in President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, 1937 and 1941.

Upon his return to the court, more progressives had joined the bench and Hughes seemed determined again to vote progressive and soon bring an end the longstanding pro-business Lochner era. During his early years as Chief Justice, however, the fear he had developed for an overblown bureaucracy during World War I undermined his optimism. Showing his old progressive image, he upheld legislation protecting civil rights and civil liberties and wrote the opinion for the Court in Near v. Minnesota , which held prior restraint against the press is unconstitutional. Concerning economic regulation, however, he was still willing to uphold legislation which supported "freedom of opportunity" for individuals on the one hand and the "police power" of the state on the other but did not personally favor legislation that linked national economic planning and bureaucratic social welfare together. At first resisting Roosevelt’s New Deal and building a consensus of centrist members of the court, Hughes used his influence to limit the liberal scope of Roosevelt’s changes and would often strike down New Deal legislation he felt was poorly drafted and did not clearly specify how they were constitutional. By 1935, however, Hughes felt the court’s four conservative Justices had disregarded common law and sought to curb their power.

Hughes was often aligned with the court’s three liberal Justices Louis Brandeis, Harlan Fiske Stone, and Benjamin Cardozo in finding some New Deal measures Constitutional, On one occasion, Hughes would side with the conservatives in striking down the New Deal’s Agricultural Adjustment Act in the 1936 case United States v. Butler, which held that the law was unconstitutional because its so-called tax policy was a coercive regulation rather than a tax measure and the federal government lacked authority to regulate agriculture, but surprisingly did not assign the majority opinion, a practice usually required for court’s most senior justice who agrees with the majority opinion, and allowed Associate Justice Owen Roberts to speak for the entire majority in his own words. It was accepted that he did not agree with the argument that the federal government lacked authority over agriculture and was going to write a separate opinion upholding the act’s regulation policy while striking down the act’s taxation policy on the grounds that it was a coercive regulation rather than a tax measure. However, Roberts convinced Hughes that he would side with him and the three liberal justices in future cases pertaining to the nation’s agriculture which involved the Constitution’s General Welfare Clause if he agreed to join his opinion.

By 1936, Hughes sensed the growing hostility in the court and could do little about it. In the 1936 case Carter v. Carter Coal Company, Hughes took a middle ground for both doctrinal and court-management reasons. Writing his own opinion, he joined the three liberal justices in upholding the Bituminous Coal Conservation Act’s marketing provision but sided with Roberts and the four conservatives in striking down the act’s provision which regulated local labor. By 1937, as the court leaned more in his favor, Hughes would renounce the position he took in the Carter case regarding local labor and ruled that the procedural methods which governed the Wagner Act’s labor regulation provisions bore resemblance to the procedural methods which governed the railroad rates that the Interstate Commerce Commission was allowed to maintain in the 1914 Shreveport decision and thus demonstrated that Congress could use its commerce power to regulate local industrial labor as well.

In 1937, when Roosevelt attempted to pack the Court with six additional justices, Hughes worked behind the scenes to defeat the effort, which failed in the Senate.Jeff Shesol, Supreme power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court (2010) pp. 394–7. by rushing important New Deal legislation- such as Wagner Act and the Social Security Act- through the court and ensuring that the court’s majority would uphold their constitutionality. The month after Roosevelt’s court-packing announcement, Roberts, who had joined the four conservative Justices in striking down important New Deal legislation, shocked the American public by siding with Hughes and the court’s three liberal justices in striking down the court’s previous ruling in the 1923 Adkins v. Children’s Hospital case-which held that laws requiring minimum wage violated the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause- and upholding the constitutionality of Washington state’s minimum wage law in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish. Because Roberts had previously sided with the four conservative justices and used the Adkins decision as the basis for striking down a similar minimum wage law the state of New York enforced in Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo it was widely perceived that he only agreed to uphold the constitutionality of minimum wage as a result of the pressure that was put on the Supreme Court by the court-packing plan. However, both Hughes and Roberts acknowledged that the Chief Justice, in fact, had already convinced Roberts to change his method of voting months before Roosevelt announced his court-packing plan and that the effort he put into defeating the plan played only a small significance in determining how the court’s majority made their decisions in future cases pertaining to New Deal legislation.