Supreme Court of the United States
Hughes Court
Charles Evans Hughes cph.3b15401.jpg
February 24, 1930 – June 30, 1941
(11 years, 126 days)
SeatOld Senate Chamber
Supreme Court Building
Washington, D.C.
No. of positions9
Hughes Court decisions
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg

The Hughes Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States from 1930 to 1941, when Charles Evans Hughes served as Chief Justice of the United States. Hughes succeeded William Howard Taft as Chief Justice after the latter's retirement, and Hughes served as Chief Justice until his retirement, at which point Harlan Stone was nominated and confirmed as Hughes's replacement. The Supreme Court moved from its former quarters at the United States Capitol to the newly constructed Supreme Court Building during Hughes's chief-justiceship.

Presiding over the country during the Great Depression and the New Deal meant to overcome it, the Court was dominated through the 1937 term by four conservative justices, known as the "Four Horsemen" (Pierce Butler, James Clark McReynolds, George Sutherland, and Willis Van Devanter), and struck down many of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies.[1] Roosevelt's frustration with the Court led to his so-called court-packing scheme, a 1937 proposal—defeated in Congress—to increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court in order to affect its ideological position.


The Hughes Court began in 1930, when Hughes was confirmed to replace William Howard Taft as Chief Justice. As president, Taft had appointed Hughes to the position of Associate Justice in 1910, and Hughes had remained on the Court until his resignation in 1916 to run for president.

Associate Justice Edward Terry Sanford died less than a month after Hughes's confirmation as Chief Justice, and was succeeded by Justice Owen Roberts in May 1930, after the Senate rejected President Herbert Hoover's first nominee, John J. Parker. With the confirmation of Roberts, the Hughes Court consisted of Hughes, Roberts, and seven veterans of the Taft Court: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Van Devanter, McReynolds, Louis Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, and Harlan F. Stone. Holmes retired in 1932 and was succeeded by Benjamin N. Cardozo; like Roberts and Hughes, Cardozo was appointed by President Hoover.

Roosevelt made his first appointment to the court in 1937, replacing the retiring Van Devanter with Hugo Black. Two justices left the Court in 1938: Sutherland (retired) and Cardozo (died). They were succeeded by Stanley Forman Reed (Sutherland), and Felix Frankfurter (Cardozo). After Brandeis retired from the court in 1939, Roosevelt appointed William O. Douglas to his seat. Douglas served from April 15, 1939 to November 12, 1975 – 36 years, 209 days, which is longer than any other justice in the Court's history. Butler died on November 16, 1939, and was replaced by Frank Murphy. With these appointments, the president was able to successfully move the Court to a more liberal and agreeable position. Lastly, McReynolds retired shortly before Hughes did, and Roosevelt replaced him with James F. Byrnes. The Hughes Court ended with Hughes's retirement in 1941. Roosevelt selected Associate Justice Stone to succeed Hughes. Stone's position as Associate Justice was subsequently filled by Robert H. Jackson.


Bar key:
  T. Roosevelt appointee   Taft appointee   Wilson appointee   Harding appointee   Coolidge appointee   Hoover appointee   F. Roosevelt appointee

Other branches

Presidents during this court included Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Congresses during this court included 71st through the 77th United States Congresses.

Rulings of the Court

See also: List of United States Supreme Court cases by the Hughes Court

The Hughes Court in 1937, photographed by Erich Salomon.
The Hughes Court in 1937, photographed by Erich Salomon.

The Hughes Court issued several notable rulings touching on many aspects of American life. Landmark cases of the Hughes Court include:[2]

Judicial philosophy

The Hughes Court has been called a time of "constitutional revolution" in which the court turned away from the Lochner era of striking down government regulations.[5] The Hughes Court was divided into three major blocs of justices.[2] The Four Horsemen consisting of Justices Van Devanter, McReynolds, Sutherland and Butler, were a group of conservative justices who often voted to strike down New Deal programs, while a liberal bloc known as the Three Musketeers, consisting of Justices Brandeis, Stone, and Cardozo, often upheld New Deal programs. Chief Justice Hughes and Justice Roberts were nicknamed the "roving justices" and voted with either bloc depending on the case.[2] Roberts's decision in 1937 to vote to uphold Washington's minimum wage law has been described as the switch in time that saved nine in that it represented a new dominance of the liberal faction of the court (as well as a defeat to Roosevelt's plan to expand the size of the court).[1] However, some scholars, such as Barry Cushman, have rejected this conventional wisdom as overly simplistic in emphasizing the justices’ roles as political actors.[5][6] Cushman argues that many of the New Deal acts were struck down because they were not written with proper consideration for constitutional issues, and that the Roosevelt Justice Department under Homer Cummings failed to adequately defend the laws in court.[6] Regardless of the reasons for the change, the Supreme Court did not strike down another New Deal law after 1936.[7] The subsequent retirements or deaths of three of the Four Horsemen (plus Justices Cardozo and Brandeis) gave Roosevelt the opportunity to appoint liberal Justices who ruled more favorably on his agenda.[7]


  1. ^ a b Cushman, Barry (February 1994). "Rethinking the New Deal Court". Virginia Law Review. 80 (1): 201–61. JSTOR 1073597.
  2. ^ a b c "The Hughes Court, 1930-1941". The Supreme Court Historical Society. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  3. ^ "West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937)". The Supreme Court. PBS. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  4. ^ Caplan, Lincoln (13 September 2013). "Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Footnote Four". New Yorker. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
  5. ^ a b Kalman, Laura (October 2005). "The Constitution, the Supreme Court, and the New Deal". The American Historical Review. 110 (4): 1052–1080. doi:10.1086/ahr.110.4.1052.
  6. ^ a b Cushman, 249-255
  7. ^ a b Leuchtenberg, William E. (May 2005). "When Franklin Roosevelt Clashed with the Supreme Court – and Lost". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 1 March 2016.

Further reading

Works centering on the Hughes Court[edit]

Works centering on Hughes Court justices[edit]

Other relevant works[edit]