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Did a Switch in Time Save Nine?

45 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2009 Last revised: 2 Nov 2009

Daniel E. Ho

Stanford Law School

Kevin M. Quinn

UC Berkeley School of Law

Date Written: July 10, 2009

Abstract

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's court-packing plan of 1937 and the "switch in time that saved nine" animate central questions of law, politics, and history. Did Supreme Court Justice Roberts abruptly switch votes in 1937 to avert a showdown with Roosevelt? Scholars disagree vigorously about whether Roberts's transformation was gradual and anticipated or abrupt and unexpected. Using newly collected data of votes from 1931-1940 terms, we contribute to the historical understanding of this episode by providing the first quantitative evidence of Roberts's transformation. Applying modern measurement methods, we show that Roberts shifted sharply to the left in the 1936 term. The shift appears sudden and temporary. The duration of Roberts's shift, however, is in many ways irrelevant, as the long-term transformation of the Court is overwhelmingly attributable to Roosevelt's appointees.

Suggested Citation

Ho, Daniel E. and Quinn, Kevin M., Did a Switch in Time Save Nine? (July 10, 2009). CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1432743 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1432743

Daniel E. Ho (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States
650-723-9560 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://dho.stanford.edu

Kevin M. Quinn

UC Berkeley School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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