Why Do 9 Justices Serve on the Supreme Court? - HISTORY

Cartoon of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1937 Supreme Court packing plan and opposition to it, illustrated by J.N. "Ding" Darling.

In the 1930s, the Supreme Court issued a series of rulings that undercut some of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. FDR and his Justice Department responded with a proposed bill that would have allowed him to name six new Supreme Court justices to reach a grand total of 15.

Under the proposed legislation, all sitting justices older than 70 would be asked to resign. If any of them refused, FDR would be allowed to nominate an additional justice to the bench. Since six of the nine justices at the time were older than 70, that created the possibility of six new seats on the Supreme Court.

FDR’s plan, decried as “packing the court” with his political supporters, was shot down in the Senate by a vote of 70-20. 

READ MORE: When FDR Tried to 'Pack' the Supreme Court

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