Monday, June 14, 2021

Daniel on Hatton Sumners and the Court-Packing Plan

Josiah M. Daniel III, a Visiting Scholar in the Department of History of the University of Texas at Austin and a Retired Partner in Residence in the Dallas office of Vinson & Elkins, LLP, has published “What I Said Was ‘Here Is Where I Cash In’”: the Instrumental Role of Congressman Hatton Sumners in the Resolution of the 1937 Court-Packing Crisis, in the UIC John Marshall Law Review 54 (2021): 379-428.  From the introduction:

Hatton Sumners, 1938 (LC)
Later in the year, after Roosevelt had lost [the battle over the Court-packing plan], journalists Joseph Alsop and Turner Catledge published in the September 18th Saturday Evening Post an article titled “The 168 Days: The Story Behind the Story of the Supreme Court Fight,” in which, under a subheading of “No. 1 Opposition Man,” they reported that, immediately after the announcement, Vice President John Nance Garner, House Majority Leader Sam Rayburn, and [Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Hatton W.] Sumners returned in a taxi to the Capitol together:

After they had left the White House, after they had turned down past the Treasury, Hatton Sumners spoke to the men with him. “Boys,” he said, “here’s where I cash in my chips.” 
It was the first announcement of opposition to the plan . . . .

The journalists slightly misquoted Sumners’s pithy remark, and historians and legal scholars have almost uniformly perpetuated the mistake, countless times, to the present day. They have, moreover, misunderstood it.

--Dan Ernst