In Yakus v. United States (321 U.S. 414 (1944)) Congress passed the Emergency Price
Control Act (50 U.S.C.App. Supp.
II, §§ 901), which was designed to set
price controls on products during WWII. The Act delegated to an Executive Branch
official (The Price Administrator), the ability to set maximum prices for
commodities. Yakus argued that the Act was an unconstitutional violation of
the Non-Delegation Doctrine because it gave the Price
Administrator the authority to set prices that "in his judgment will be
generally fair and equitable and will effectuate the purposes of this Act"
when prices "have risen or threaten to rise to an extent or in a manner
inconsistent with the purposes of this Act."
Basically, Yakus was argued
that this was a violation because Executive Branch officials are only
supposed to execute the law. They
are not supposed to make decisions about how the law was to be applied.
That's Congress' job.
The US Supreme Court found that the Act was not a violation
of the Non-Delegation Doctrine.
The Court found that the Act
specified the basic conditions under which the Price Administrator was to
set prices. So the legislative function was set by Congress. All the Price Administrator had to do was
make a finding of fact to see if/when those conditions were met.
Basically, this case said that
Congress can delegate authority to an Executive Branch official to make
decisions. However, they must set reasonably well-defined standards to
guide the official.
Aka "supply the governing
principles," or "standards to canalize discretion."
One of the things that make this case interesting is that
the US Supreme Court supplied the governing principles via interpretation.
Congress didn't explicitly
provide "standards to canalize discretion" in the language of
the Statute, but the Court decided that they could fix it by reading
standards into the Statute by looking at legislative history etc.
Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council (467 U.S. 837 (1984)) later said that if Congress
left a Statute ambiguous, then the Courts are supposed to defer to the Agency's
interpretation of the Statute. That decision seems to be at odds with the
Court's reading of the Non-Delegation Doctrine here in Yakus.
Yakus said that Congress has to be specific about
principles in order for the Act to be constitutional under the Non-Delegation
Doctrine, but Chevron
said that if Congress is not specific then the courts should just defer
to whatever the Agency decides.
Commentators have suggested
that a Statute that is too broad under the Non-Delegation Doctrine cannot be saved by deferring to the Agency per
Chevron. While the Courts will defer to an Agency if the
Statute is ambiguous with regards to small decisions, if Congress is
really ambiguous in the big decisions, or it is ambiguous what the entire
purpose of the Statute is, then the Statute is a violation of the Non-Delegation
Doctrine, even after Chevron.