Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1932-33

June 5, 1933

Report Outline
Progress of the Law in the Federal and State Taxation
Questions of Federal and State Taxation
Railroad and Public Utility Cases
Questions of Fair Trial in Criminal Cases

Progress of the Law in the Federal and State Taxation

The Supreme Court Of The United States disposed of 910 cases during its 1932–33 term, and on its adjournment. May 29, the number of cases carried over to next term's docket was 127. Cases continued to come to the Court at the rate of more than one thousand a year, notwithstanding the fact that 80 per cent of those which reach its docket are met with orders that the Court lacks jurisdiction, or that the Court, in the exercise of its discretion, will not review the decisions of the lower courts. The Supreme Court, unlike any other American tribunal, determines for itself the amount of its work, without any review of its discretion in refusing to consider cases. Even in appeals, which are brought to the Court “as of right,” it dismisses more than 50 per cent of the cases “for lack of jurisdiction” or “for want of a substantial federal question.”

Progress of the Law in the Supreme Court

Shortly after the approval of the Jurisdictional Act of 1925, which made the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction largely discretionary. Chief Justice Taft said the work of the Court should be limited to developing important principles of law and to resolving conflicts in the decisions of the lower courts. The resolving of conflicts, however, has constituted a very unimportant part of the Court's work. Whenever a conflict exists in the decisions of two circuits, and the two decisions cannot be distinguished on some technical ground, a writ of certiorari is granted as a matter of course. The rule of law in such case is then laid down by the Supreme Court. Often, the solution of the conflict does not even involve a rule of law of any significance; for example, when the conflict between two circuits concerns the validity or infringement of the same patent. Rarely is a writ of certiorari granted because of conflict between circuits on an important principle of law; the conflict apparently must lie in a specific application of a rule of law.

From the standpoint of the first function—to settle important principles of law—the work of the 1932–33 term, on the whole, was disappointing to students of legal problems and process. Some of the cases decided turned upon technical distinctions, without substantial differences. In some cases, the Court set aside principles or rules of law previously established, in order to reach the “correct” or “desirable” result, without, however, setting up other principle in their place. The impression left by a review of the work of the Court is that, while the executive and legislative departments of the government were grappling with great problems in order to lay a foundation for rapidly changing economic conditions, the Supreme Court was marking time, disposing of cases, deciding controversies on detailed facts, avoiding principles of law, though, it must also be said, deciding some cases to meet the public needs of the day.

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