The Hughes Court (1930–41)

Commerce and Labor

In what decisions did the Hughes Court uphold portions of the Social Security Act?

One of the centerpiece pieces of legislation during the New Deal period was the Social Security Act of 1935. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and many members of Congress believed the measure would assist the unemployed and the elderly during the crippling times caused by the Great Depression. The Hughes Court upheld provisions of the Social Security Act in two 1937 decisions decided on the same day: Steward Machine Co. v. Davis and Helvering v. Davis. In Steward, the Court ruled that Congress had the power to require employers with eight or more employees to pay an excise tax that would fund unemployment compensation. In Helvering, the Court ruled that Congress had the power to tax employers and employees for “Federal Old-Age Benefits.” The Hughes Court determined that the national crisis caused by the Great Depression fueled the need for Congress to spend money to benefit the general welfare. The Court ruled that Congress had the power to pass this legislation under Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution, which gives Congress broad spending powers to aid the “general welfare.”


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