The Hughes Court (1930–41)


Why is it said there were two Hughes courts?

Supreme Court historians often describe the Hughes Court in two terms, the first from 1931 to 1936 and the second from 1937 to 1941. The first Hughes Court, led by the conservative bloc of the so-called Four Horsemen (Justices Pierce Butler, Willis Van Devanter, George Sutherland, and James McReynolds) invalidated much of the “New Deal” economic legislation supported by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. These justices believed that the federal government was overreaching in its attempt to invoke its Commerce Clause powers over local matters. This changed in 1937 when Chief Justice Hughes and Justice Owen Roberts voted against the Four Horsemen to uphold a state minimum wage law in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish and to uphold the National Labor Relations Act in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. From the so-called Constitutional Revolution of 1937 forward, the Supreme Court reviewed economic regulations under a lower level of scrutiny (rational basis) than it did for regulations that impacted individual constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech or equal protection. Prior to 1937, the Court was more concerned with property and economic rights than with individual liberties. After 1937, the Court began a pattern of showing great deference in economic matters and applying greater scrutiny to restrictions that impacted individual liberties, such as freedom of speech.


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