by Spencer Howard
As President, Herbert Hoover had the opportunity to nominate three justices to the Supreme Court. In early 1930, Chief Justice William Howard Taft resigned due to ill health, and to replace him Hoover nominated Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes was clearly well qualified for the job, having had a distinguished legal career as well as serving as Governor of New York, United States Secretary of State, and from 1910 to 1916 as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, but progressives of both parties opposed Hughes’s confirmation because of his perceived connections with corporate interests and Wall Street investors. After a bitter fight, Hughes was confirmed by a vote of 52 to 26.
Less than a month after Hughes was confirmed, Justice Edward Sanford passed away. To replace him, Hoover nominated John J. Parker of North Carolina, a widely respected judge on the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. With many favorable endorsements, Parker’s confirmation seemed assured. But objections were raised by the American Federation of Labor because of a decision Parker had written regarding “yellow-dog” contracts, and by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People due to remarks Parker had made about African-Americans when he ran for Governor of North Carolina in 1920. Many Senators grew concerned about losing African-American and Labor votes in the mid-term elections, and Parker was rejected 41 to 39.
Hoover then nominated Owen Roberts, one of the attorneys who had investigated the Harding Administration “Teapot Dome” scandal. The Senate was in no mood for another fight. There were no hearings on Roberts’s nomination; in fact, there wasn’t even a vote! In executive session, the Vice President asked “Is there objection [to the consideration of the nomination]? The Chair hears none. Without objection, the nomination is confirmed, and the President will be notified.”
Upon the retirement of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in 1932, Hoover’s last appointment was Benjamin Cardozo, a Democrat and a highly regarded judge on the New York Court of Appeals, who was confirmed unanimously by the Senate. On the bench, Cardozo often sided with Justices Brandeis and Harlan Stone as the liberal faction of the Court. Even though Hughes had been characterized during his confirmation as a conservative, he also sided frequently with the more liberal justices. Roberts often provided the key swing vote between the liberal and conservative factions on the court.