|Grade Level: 9-12
Needed: history behind
The New Deal; articles I, II, and
III of the Constitution; checks
and balances; how the Supreme Court
checks the other two branches.
Directions: Read the
background and the guidelines for
how to interpret cartoons very carefully.
Do not skip anything as there is
a logic to how things are presented.
Blue boxes are cartoons that will
be explained to you. Red boxes contain
questions that you must answer on
separate paper. Some cartoons allow
you to check your answers. Do so
only after you have answered the
questions. These are for practice
and there should be no penalty for
In 1936 President Roosevelt's New Deal
was put to the public opinion test when
he ran for reelection for the first
time. Roosevelt crushed Republican candidate
Alf Landon in one of the most lopsided
presidential elections in American history.
Roosevelt won with nearly 61% of the
popular vote, and by 523-8 in the electoral
college. Roosevelt interpreted this
victory as an approval of his New Deal
programs by Americans, yet he was frustrated
that the Supreme Court had declared
unconstitutional two of his key economic
programs, the National Recovery Act
and the Agricultural Adjustment Act.
On January 6, 1937, just two weeks before
his first term was to expire, FDR delivered
the annual State Of The Union address
before a joint session of congress.
In this speech Roosevelt made several
comments about the judiciary branch
of government (The Supreme Court) In
the first comment, Roosevelt described
the need for closer harmony between
legislative and judicial action. In
other words, he was expressing his view
that by declaring key parts of the New
Deal unconstitutional, the Supreme Court
was out of harmony with the will of
the people as expressed in Congress,
and in their recent reelection of him.
Later in the speech, Roosevelt added:
"The Judicial branch also is asked
by the people to do its part in
making democracy successful. We
do not ask the Courts to call nonexistent
powers into being, but we have a
right to expect that conceded powers
or those legitimately implied shall
be made effective instruments for
the common good."
||Cartoons have several
different levels of meaning. Cartoon
#1 is an example of Level 1,
the most basic type. It is a
straightforward drawing of an event
or issue. It does not express an
opinion by the artist. The character
can be identified as a judge because
of the robe he's wearing. To make
it more clear, the artist has written
"Supreme Court" on his robe. Thus,
the character represents a Supreme
Court justice. In his hand is a
piece of paper with a quote from
Roosevelt's State Of The Union Address,
the same words quoted above. Though
the president did not specifically
mention the Supreme Court, it's
pretty obvious he was referring
to it. The justice in the cartoon
is asking the question as to whether
Roosevelt's words should be interpreted
as a criticism of the Court. He's
being sarcastic. Of course those
words can only be seen as a criticism.
In summary, the cartoon captures
the event, but does not include
anything expressing the artist's
own opinion about the Court's performance
or Roosevelt's criticism of it.
||In Level 2, the
artist will use a metaphor in
the cartoon. A metaphor in this
case refers to one thing that is
interpreted as representing something
else, thus making a comparison.
To understand the full meaning of
the cartoon, the viewer must have
background knowledge of what the
current event/issue is being compared
with. Does the scene in cartoon
#2 seem familiar? The comparison
being made here is between Roosevelt's
criticism of the Supreme Court,
and a very famous painting called "The Spirit of '76". A.M. Willard
painted this in 1876 at the centennial
of America's Declaration of Independence.
It depicts a parade during the Revolutionary
War, with the soldiers marching
in unison. Since 1876 it has become
a very recognizable symbol of patriotism
and the American spirit. Note the
title of the cartoon. In the cartoon,
the 3 soldiers have been replaced
by the three branches of government.
The main soldier is now the president
(the executive branch). The other
soldiers are Congress (the legislative
branch) and the Supreme Court (the
judicial branch). Notice that congress
is in step with Roosevelt, but the
Supreme Court is not. The suggestion
is that the Supreme Court, by not
cooperating with Roosevelt, is being
unpatriotic. Does this cartoon express
the author's personal opinion? Not
necessarily. It shows that Roosevelt believes the Court is unpatriotic.
That doesn't mean the artist necessarily
agrees. Level 2 uses a metaphor,
but still does not express the artist's
On February 5, 1937, Roosevelt sent
a message to Congress recommending the
reorganization of the judiciary branch
of the government. Roosevelt gave two
reasons why this needed to be done.
First, he said: "The Judiciary has
often found itself handicapped by insufficient
personnel with which to meet a growing
and more complex business...The simple
fact is that today a new need for legislative
action arises because the personnel
of the Federal Judiciary is insufficient
to meet the business before them. A
growing body of our citizens complain
of the complexities, the delays, and
the expense of litigation in United
States Courts." In other words,
he said that there weren't enough judges
to do all the work that needed to be
done. Second, he said: "A part of
the problem of obtaining a sufficient
number of judges to dispose of cases
is the capacity of the judges themselves.
This brings forward the question of
aged or infirm judges...In the federal
courts there are in all 237 life tenure
permanent judgeships. Twenty-five of'
them are now held by judges over seventy
years of age and eligible to leave the
bench on full pay...Life tenure of judges,
assured by the Constitution, was designed
to place the courts beyond temptations
or influences which might impair their
judgments: it was not intended to create
a static judiciary. A constant and systematic
addition of younger blood will vitalize
the courts and better equip them to
recognize and apply the essential concepts
of justice in the light of the needs
and the facts of an ever-changing world." In other words, Roosevelt was saying
that too many of the judges, including
those on the Supreme Court, were too
So, where was Roosevelt headed with
this? Further in the message he proposed
a solution for both of these problems: "I, therefore, earnestly recommend
that the necessity of an increase in
the number of judges be supplied by
legislation providing for the appointment
of additional judges in all federal
courts, without exception, where there
are incumbent judges of retirement age
who do not choose to retire or to resign.
If an elder judge is not in fact incapacitated,
only good can come from the presence
of an additional judge in the crowded
state of the dockets; if the capacity
of an elder judge is in fact impaired,
the appointment of an additional judge
is indispensable. This seems to be a
truth which cannot be contradicted."
In the proposed bill attached to the
message, the exact details of the plan
were made clear:
a) When any judge of a court of
the United States, appointed to hold
his office during good behavior, has
heretofore or hereafter attained the
age of seventy years and has held a
commission or commissions as judge of
any such court or courts at least ten
years, continuously or otherwise, and
within six months thereafter has neither
resigned nor retired, the President,
for each such judge who has not so resigned
or retired, shall nominate, and by and
with the advice and consent of the Senate,
shall appoint one additional judge to
the court to which the former is commissioned.
Provided, That no additional judge shall
be appointed hereunder if the judge
who is of retirement age dies, resigns
or retires prior to the nomination of
such additional judge.
(b) The number of judges of any
court shall be permanently increased
by the number appointed thereto...nor
shall any judge be so appointed if such
appointment would result in...more than
fifteen members of the Supreme Court
of the United States...
This proposal would allow Roosevelt
to nominate a new Supreme Court justice
for every justice with 10 years of service,
age 70 or over, who refused to retire,
up to a total of 15 Supreme Court justices.
In other words, this proposal could
increase the total number of justices
from 9 to 15! Before any of this could
happen, Congress would have to pass
this bill into law. Before that could
happen, there would be a serious public
debate on the plan. The following cartoons
are all from that public debate.
1. Based on the title
of the cartoon, how
many justices had
met the 70-or-over
many new justices
would Roosevelt be
able to nominate if
the bill became law?
2. Describe how this
cartoon captures the
3. The words "A Free
and Independent Judiciary"
refer to Article III
of the U.S. Constitution.
The judiciary is supposed
to be a distinct branch
of the government,
not part of one of
the other branches.
Would FDR's plan jeopardize
this? Explain how
| Check your answers|
| Check your answers |
4. Identify the overall
metaphor. What two
things are being compared?
5. Now identify each
part of the metaphor.
For example, the US
Constitution is being
compared with a sick
three other parts
of the metaphor.
6. Finally, explain
the metaphor. Whose
point-of-view is being
expressed here? Is
it Congress's? Roosevelt's?
The American public's?
According to that
is the problem and
|Now let's look at the next type of cartoon. Level 3 cartoons are just like level
1 cartoons, with the difference that the
cartoonist clearly expresses an opinion
on the issue.
||First, remember that
in his State Of The Union Address,
Roosevelt said that the Supreme
Court was out of harmony with the
other branches of government and
the will of the people of the United
States. The title of this cartoon,
"Let's Harmonize!", is a reference
to FDR's speech. All three branches
of government are represented here.
The cartoonist is suggesting that
the legislative branch is in harmony
with the executive because FDR has
a stranglehold on it. According
to the cartoonist, Roosevelt's court-packing
plan now has him making a grab for
the Supreme Court, to force the
judicial branch into "harmony" as
well. Again, it's suggested that
FDR will control the court if he
is able to nominate 6 new justices
who all share his views on the New
Deal. Because the action Roosevelt
is taking is being portrayed as
negative, we know that the cartoonist
is criticizing Roosevelt and his
plan for reorganizing the judiciary
7. This cartoon is
very similar to the
previous one. Explain
what's going on.
8. Does the cartoonist
sees Roosevelt's court-packing
plan as something
positive or negative?
9. Explain how this
is even stronger than
the opinion of the
artist of #5.
| Check your answers|
|Now it's time for the final
type of cartoon. Level 4 cartoons use
metaphors and clearly express the cartoonist's
opinion on the issue.
||In "The Ngeneious
Quarterback," the cartoonist uses
a football metaphor. The quarterback
is getting ready to run his next
play. FDR is the quarterback, Congress
is the referee, and The Supreme
Court is the team. FDR says that
the players on the field are through
(the justices are too old), but
he doesn't want them taken off the
field, Instead, his idea is to ask
the referee (congress) for six substitutes
(6 new Supreme Court justices. Congress
would be able to supply these substitutes
by passing the bill to reorganize
the judiciary). By using the football
metaphor, the author enables us
to understand the issue immediately.
We all know it would be ridiculous
for a quarterback to ask for 6 substitutes
all at once without taking any of
his players off the field. Therefore,
we can tell that the cartoonist
also thinks FDR's court-packing
plan is ridiculous, and he wants
us to think it ridiculous as well.
|10. Before you analyze a
Level 4 cartoon, here's a
little test for you. To the
left and right are two more
sports metaphor cartoons.
One clearly expresses the
cartoonist's opinion (Level
4), while the other doesn't
(Level 2). Which is which?
Explain why you answered the
way you did.
| Check your answer |
| Check your answers |
11. Identify the
What two things are
12. Now identify
the parts of the metaphor.
For example, the US
Constitution is being
compared with a tennis
net. Identify four
other parts of the
13. Explain the metaphor
as it's set up in
the top half of the
14. Explain the metaphor
as it's executed in
the bottom half of
15. Explain the cartoonist's
opinion about FDR's
16-24. It's time to test what
you've learned. Below are 9
political cartoons, all of them
about the court-packing plan.
For each one, do these things:
a. Tell what type of cartoon
it is (Level 1, 2, 3, or 4)
b. For Level 1 and 3 cartoons
(non-metaphor), describe how
the cartoon captures the issue.
For Level 2 and 4 cartoons,
describe the metaphor used.
c. For Level 2 and 4 cartoons,
explain each part of the metaphor.
d. For Level 3 and 4 cartoons,
describe the cartoonist's opinion.
Check your answers with your
||The bill for reorganizing
the judiciary was allowed to die
in committee, remanded there by
a 70-20 Senate vote. The Supreme
Court remained a 9 judge panel,
and still does today. Roosevelt
had a court he would live with.
Because he stayed in office for
so long, he eventually had a huge
impact on jurisprudence (the political
views of the majority) of the Supreme
Court anyway, as he would eventually
nominate a total of eight appointments.
This era was the last big gasp of
the New Deal. Very soon the focus
would shift away from domestic issues
and toward the looming crisis in
Europe and in Asia that would soon
erupt into World War II.