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Judicial independence is a matter of Constitutional law and American tradition. By the strict design of our founders, our separate court system has been independent of party politics, and therefore not guided by party platforms and party leaders as are the other two branches of our government.

In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt tested that separation. Frustrated by the US Supreme Court’s resistance to his New Deal programs, FDR backed legislation to essentially expand the court from 9 to 15 members. With his overwhelming Democratic majorities in Congress, Roosevelt thought that for political purposes, he could easily take over the court, thus giving the executive and legislative branches controlling power over the constitutionally independent Supreme Court.

Congressional leader of the opposition to the “court-packing plan” was Montana’s highly influential Senator Burton K. Wheeler. A Democrat and “new dealer” himself, Wheeler was shocked by what he saw as an outrageous political power play.

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Bob Brown is a former Montana secretary of state and state Senate president.

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