Attribution Time: Cal Tinney's 1937 Quip, 'A Switch in Time'll Save Nine'
15 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2020 Last revised: 12 Dec 2020
Date Written: April 28, 2020
In the history of the United States Supreme Court, 1937 was a huge year—perhaps the Court’s most important year ever.
Before 1933, the Supreme Court sometimes held that progressive policies enacted by political branches of government were unconstitutional. Such decisions became much more prevalent during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term, 1933-1936. In those years, the Court struck down, often by narrow margins, both federal “New Deal” laws and state law counterparts that sought to combat the devastation of the Great Depression.
Then President Roosevelt, in early 1937, proposed to “pack”—to enlarge—the Court, so that it would become supportive of New Deal laws.
Within weeks, the Supreme Court changed course, announcing broader constitutional interpretations of federal and state government legislative powers.
The Court’s switch took the air out of the Court-packing balloon. The change was—and here is the quip that everyone knows—“the switch in time that saved nine.”
That line appeared in 1937. It was repeated by many, especially in Washington. It has been quoted ever since. Just who coined it has been debated and never established.
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