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November 2018

Happy Birthday to the self-deprecating vice-president who saved the Supreme Court and the independent judiciary

My cousin and contemporary John Nance "Cactus Jack" Garner III (born 150 years ago today, d. 1967) is known only for saying the vice-presidency "isn't worth a bucket of warm spit," or something like that. But he is actually one of the most important vice-presidents. In 1937, FDR relied on Garner, a former Speaker of the House and legendary back-room politicker, to get his "court packing" bill through Congress. The bill would have let the President appoint enough additional justices to create a compliant majority on the court. But 

"From the start, Garner loathed the plan and thought that it would be a threat to party harmony. He began covertly to rally the opposition."

-- "Court-Packing Plan of 1937," by Lionel V. Patenaude, Texas State Historical Association, citing Lionel V. Patenaude, "Garner, Sumners, and Connally: The Defeat of the Roosevelt Court Bill in 1937," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 74 (July 1970). Lionel V. Patenaude, Texans, Politics and the New Deal (New York: Garland, 1983). Bascom N. Timmons, Garner of Texas (New York: Harper, 1948). 

Garner and his allies managed to make the environment for the bill so toxic that he finally was able to tell FDR he had to withdraw it. "Eventually, Garner was given credit for smoothing over the crisis, but he had also rendered himself persona non grata with the administration." So we have John Nance Garner to thank for the U.S.'s independent judiciary, which has given us everything from racial integration to gay marriage.