Mcreynolds, James C. (1862–1946)

Author:Stanley I. Kutler

Page 1714

James Clark McReynolds, a Tennessee Democrat, first came to national attention as an antitrust prosecutor during the THEODORE ROOSEVELT and WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT administrations. He was a Tennessee Gold Democrat, friendly with Colonel Edward House, WOODROW WILSON'S key adviser. His antitrust reputation led to his appointment as Wilson's attorney general in 1913. Within a year, however, McReynolds found himself at odds with the administration and powerful congressmen. Wilson "kicked McReynolds upstairs" to the Supreme Court in 1914. From then until his retirement in 1941, McReynolds distinguished himself as a consistent and implacable foe of Progressive and NEW DEAL regulatory programs.

McReynold's hostility to trusts largely derived from his ideas of individualism and freedom from arbitrary restraints. Throughout his judicial career he resolutely supported the business community and was instinctively suspicious of governmental regulation. "If real competition is to continue, the right of the individual to exercise reasonable discretion in respect of his own business methods must be preserved," McReynolds wrote in FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION V. GRATZ (1920). In that case, the Court limited the authority of the FTC, the creation of which had been one of the Wilson administration's primary achievements; McReynolds wrote that the courts, not the commission, would decide the meaning of "unfair method of competition." In St. Louis and O'Fallon Railroad v. United States (1929) the Court resolved a long-standing dispute between the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and railroads as to whether original or replacement costs should be considered for valuation and rate purposes. Speaking for a narrow majority, McReynolds overturned ICC policy by ruling that the commission had to base its determination of rates on replacement costs, which were higher.

McReynolds resisted the claims of organized labor. For example, he joined his colleagues in rejecting federal child labor laws and a District of Columbia minimum wage statute. When the Court in 1919 sustained an Arizona law holding employers responsible for on-the-job accidents whether or not they were negligent, McReynolds dissented, caustically arguing that such laws served "to stifle enterprise, produce discontent, strife, idleness and pauperism."

Without exception, McReynolds supported the conviction of political radicals during the "Red Scare" period following WORLD WAR I a...

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