The Hughes Court (1937-1938). Seated, from left to right: Justices George Sutherland, James C. McReynolds, and Chief Justice Evans Hughes, and Justices Louis D. Brandeis and Pierce Butler. Standing, from left to right: Justices Benjamin N. Cardozo, Harlan Fiske Stone, Owen J. Roberts, and Hugo L. Black.
The Hughes Court (1932)
The Hughes Court (1932-1937). Seated, from left to right: Justices Louis D. Brandeis and Willis Van Devanter, Chief Justice Evans Hughes, and Justices James C. McReynolds and George Sutherland. Standing, from left to right: Justices Owen J. Roberts, Pierce Butler, Harlan Fiske Stone, and Benjamin N. Cardozo.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal"
Political Cartoon: "New Deal Lexicon: TVA, WPA, PWA, AAA"
President Roosevelt announced his Court-packing plan on 3/9/1937: “Whenever a judge or Justice of any federal court has reached the age of 70, and does not avail himself of the opportunity to retire on a pension, a new member should be appointed by the President then in office, with the approval as required by the Constitution of the Senate of the United States.”
Based on the records in the “docket books” we know that Justice Roberts voted to uphold the Washington law in December 1936--nearly three months before President Roosevelt announced his “Court Packing” plan.
Justices Van Devanter, Sutherland, Butler, and McReynolds consistently voted as a bloc to invalidate progressive federal and state legislation. This conservative quartet was dubbed by their critics as “The Four Horsemen” a reference to Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the New Testament’s Book of Revelations.
Washington State imposed a minimum wage for women and children, but not for men. Elsie Parrish worked as a chambermaid at the West Coast Hotel in Wenatchee, Washington. Her employer failed to pay her the minimum wage, and she filed suit to recover back pay. The hotel’s owner argued that the labor regulation deprived him of the liberty of contract without due process of law.
Over the previous three decades, the Supreme Court had decided several cases concerning economic liberty for women. In Muller v. Oregon (1908), the Court upheld a law that limited the hours women could work. The law was deemed reasonable because of the “physical differences between men and women.” However, fifteen years later, in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923), the Court declared unconstitutional a minimum-wage law for women. The federal statute violated the liberty of contract protected by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Thirteen years later, in Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo (1936), the Court reaffirmed Adkins. The 5-4 decision found that New York’s minimum-wage law for women was unconstitutional. In that case, Justice Roberts joined the Four Horsemen. Critically, how- ever, in Morehead the Court was not asked to overrule Adkins.
But in West Coast Hotel, Elsie Parrish asked the Court to expressly overrule Adkins.