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After one of the great landslides in American presidential history, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the oath of office for the second time on January 20, 1937. As he had four years before, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, like Roosevelt a former governor of New York, administered the oath. Torrents of rain drenched the inauguration, and Hughes’ damp whiskers waved in the biting wind. When the skullcapped Chief Justice reached the promise to defend the Constitution, he “spoke slowly and with special emphasis.” The President responded in kind, though he felt like saying, as he later told his aide Sam Rosenman: Yes, but it’s the Constitution as I understand it, flexible enough to meet any new problem of democracy-not the kind of Constitution your Court has raised up as barrier to progress and democracy. Roosevelt’s emphasis in pronouncing the oath was not lost on the crowd; some thought he repeated it “as if it had been an accusation.” Nor, Rosenman was sure, was there any doubt that Hughes, sitting just behind the rostrum, understood the President’s emphasis when he declared in his address that the people “will insist that every agency of popular government use effective instruments to carry out their will.” Though the Supreme Court had upheld some of the responses to the Depression attempted by the New Deal and the states, several of its decisions, particularly those invalidating New Deal programs, had frustrated the President immensely.


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