The "Supreme Court Four" was a name given to four United States Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn nearly every piece of legislation that was part of President Joe Steele's Four Year Plan to restart the American economy. The Supreme Court Four were: Pierce Butler; James McReynolds; George Sutherland, and; Willis Van Devanter.
Almost immediately after his inauguration, Steele called a special session of Congress, and, with some arm twisting, passed a series of laws that nationalized the banks, regulated lenders, restricted how managers could deal with unions, and created make work projects and community farms. However, the federal judiciary began overturning the legislation on appeal, and soon, most of the Four Year Plan was before the Supreme Court, which systematically began ruling the legislation unconstitutional. In response, Steele conferred with Bureau of Investigation Chief J. Edgar Hoover to investigate the justices. Then Steele gave a radio speech in which he denounced the Supreme Court as nine old men who were not elected, and who were actively wrecking the country. Steele implied the Court's actions were deliberate, and promised that there would be an investigation.
Hoover discovered "evidence" that four justices (Butler, McReynolds, Sutherland, and Van Devanter) were in fact colluding with Nazi Germany against the United States. In February 1934, Hoover and a group of agents publicly arrested the Supreme Court Four for treason while they were in the middle of deliberations. For good measure, President Steele suspended the writ of habeas corpus immediately after, insuring that the four remained in custody until their trial.
The proceedings against the Four took place in September, 1934. The prosecutor was U.S. Attorney General Andy Wyszynski, a former prosecutor from Chicago, who'd spent the weeks leading up to the trial showing off various bits of "evidence" that connected the Four to Germany.. As this was a treason trial, a military tribunal, composed of Navy Captain Raymond A. Spruance, and Army officers Colonel George Marshall, and Majors Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower. The Four received representation from the ACLU.
Upon the beginnings of the proceedings, Justice James McReynolds informed the tribunal that he wished to enter a guilty plea and throw himself upon their mercy. The ACLU attorney's attempted to object, claiming the confession was coerced, which AG Wyszynski denied. Captain Spruance questioned McReynolds, who denied any coercion and claimed he received adequate treatment. Spruance then turned to the other three judges, who also admitted their guilt. McReynolds stated for the record that they believed that Steele was the "American Trotsky", and that colluding with the Nazis was the best way to keep the U.S. a democracy. Justice Sutherland added that they weren't the only ones, and named Louisiana Senator Huey Long and radio personality and Steele critic, Father Coughlin.
The tribunal went into recess to deliberate. That afternoon, the tribunal unanimously found the Four guilty, and sentenced them to execution by firing squad. Their attorneys pledged to appeal. With few options, the ACLU appealed to the remaining Supreme Court and to President Steele, and published letters in the newspapers. Ultimately, Steele denied their appeal, and the Four were executed at sunrise some weeks after their conviction.
The Supreme Court was thoroughly cowed by this event. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes was noticeably subdued at Steele's second inauguration in 1937.
In the short story, the four justices were known as the "Gang of Four" a name given to them by Walter Lippmann in 1933. The composition of the group and their final fate remains the same in the novel.
- Joe Steele, pgs. 49-65.
- Ibid., pg.71-72
- Ibid., pg. 73-74.
- Ibid., pgs. 76-77.
- Ibid., pgs. 83-84.
- Ibid., pgs. 87-89.
- Ibid., pg. 99.
- Ibid., 101.
- Ibid., pg. 104.
- Ibid., pg. 105.
- Ibid., pg. 107.
- Ibid., pg. 111.
- Ibid., pgs. 117-118.