Het Court Packing plan

door GB op 25/08/2009

in Rechtspraak

Na het plebiscitaire aanvalletje van Gerd Leers op de rechterlijke macht is het wachten tot Corstens, de president van de Hoge Raad, komt opdraven om de kritiek op de rechterlijke macht in goede banen te leiden. Hij legt daarvoor zijn norm aan: kritiek mag, maar met respect voor de rol van de rechter.

Ik vraag me af wat hij dan vindt van de beroemde radiotoespraak (fireside chat) van Franklin D. Roosevelt, waarvan ik onlangs een registratie op internet vond. Het gaat over zijn beroemde Court Packing plan, waarvan de merites elders uitgebreid gedocumenteerd staan. Hier de toespraak zelf:

Nu gaat het mij niet om de vraag of dit inhoudelijk nu een terechte actie was of niet. Zie ik het goed, dan gebeurt er in deze speech iets waarvoor in de Federalist Papers gevreesd wordt: één president zet zich aan het hoofd van het volk om hun de constitutie terug te geven. ‘The American people’ die Roosevelt verkozen hebben worden uitgespeeld tegen het ‘we the people’ van de Constitutie. Ik denk namelijk dat de Founding Fathers uitgingen van plebiscitaire erupties via ‘Conventions’ en ‘Parlementen’. Sterker, ze waren als de dood voor Cromwells en Ceasars die namens het volk tegen de instituten zouden optrekken. Ten aanzien van het Court-Packing plan zou – in deze filosofie – amendering van de constitutie veel meer op zijn plaats zijn geweest dan het gebruik maken van een open eindje, namelijk dat de het aantal rechters niet gefixeerd is. Overigens heeft Roosevelt dit dan weer wel gemeen met een aantal Founding Fathers: die maakten in 1801 ook gebruik van een weeffoutje in de Constitutie (namelijk dat een president die de verkiezingen verliest nog een paar maanden de tijd heeft om de rechterlijke macht vol te pompen met geestverwanten).

Voor een paar citaten uit de speech: Lees verder

The Court in addition to the proper use of its judicial functions has improperly set itself up as a third house of the Congress – a super-legislature, as one of the justices has called it – reading into the Constitution words and implications which are not there, and which were never intended to be there.


I want – as all Americans want – an independent judiciary as proposed by the framers of the Constitution. That means a Supreme Court that will enforce the Constitution as written, that will refuse to amend the Constitution by the arbitrary exercise of judicial power – in other words by judicial say-so. It does not mean a judiciary so independent that it can deny the existence of facts which are universally recognized.


How then could we proceed to perform the mandate given us? It was said in last year’s Democratic platform, and here are the words, “if these problems cannot be effectively solved within the Constitution, we shall seek such clarifying amendments as will assure the power to enact those laws, adequately to regulate commerce, protect public health and safety, and safeguard economic security.” In their words, we said we would seek an amendment only if every other possible means by legislation were to fail.

When I commenced to review the situation with the problem squarely before me, I came by a process of elimination to the conclusion that, short of amendments, the only method which was clearly constitutional, and would at the same time carry out other much needed reforms, was to infuse new blood into all our courts. We must have men worthy and equipped to carry out impartial justice. But, at the same time, we must have judges who will bring to the courts a present-day sense of the Constitution – judges who will retain in the courts the judicial functions of a court, and reject the legislative powers which the courts have today assumed.


Fundamentally, if in the future, America cannot trust the Congress it elects to refrain from abuse of our constitutional usages, democracy will have failed far beyond the importance to democracy ofany kind of precedent concerning the judiciary.


Like all lawyers, like all Americans, I regret the necessity of this controversy. But the welfare of the United States, and indeed of the Constitution itself, is what we all must think about first. Our difficulty with the Court today rises not from the Court as an institution but from human beings within it. But we cannot yield our constitutional destiny to the personal judgment of a few men who, being fearful of the future, would deny us the necessary means of dealing with the present.


I believe that it would take months or years to get substantial agreement upon the type and language of an amendment. It would take months and years thereafter to get a two-thirds majority in favor of that amendment in both houses of the Congress. Then would come the long course of ratification by three-quarters of all the states. No amendment which any powerful economic interests or the leaders of any powerful political party have had reason to oppose has ever been ratified within anything like a reasonable time. And remember that thirteen states which contain only 5 percent of the voting population can block ratification even though the thirty-five states with 95 percent of the population are in favor of it.


The other group is composed of those who honestly believe the amendment process is the best and who would be willing to support a reasonable amendment if they could agree on one.

To them I say, we cannot rely on an amendment as the immediate or only answer to our present difficulties. When the time comes for action, you will find that many of those who pretend to support you will sabotage any constructive amendment which is proposed. Look at these strange bedfellows of yours. When before have you found them really at your side in your fights for progress?
And remember one thing more. Even if an amendment were passed, and even if in the years to come it were to be ratified, its meaning would depend upon the kind of justices who would be sitting on the Supreme Court bench. For an amendment, like the rest of the Constitution, is what the justices say it is rather than what its framers or you might hope it is.


During the past half-century the balance of power between the three great branches of the federal government has been tipped out of balance by the courts in direct contradiction of the high purposes of the framers of the Constitution. It is my purpose to restore that balance. You who know me will accept my solemn assurance that in a world in which democracy is under attack, I seek to make American democracy succeed. You and I will do our part.

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