United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp.
299 U.S. 304 (1936)
In an effort to reduce civil
wars in South America, Congress issued a Joint Resolution that authorized
the President, "to prohibit the sale of arms if he found that such a
prohibition would contribute to the establishment of peace in the
Roosevelt used the
authorization to prohibit exports of weapons and military equipment to
some South American countries.
Curtiss-Wright was charged
with conspiring to sell fifteen machine guns to Bolivia.
Curtiss-Wright argued that
the commerce involved was not interstate commerce but international
commerce (so the Interstate Commerce Clause didn't apply), and Congress didn't have the power to regulate it.
Curtiss-Wright argued that
the regulation was not being made by Congress but by the President, and
Article I Section 8(3) specifically says that Congress
has the power to regulate "commerce with foreign nations."
Btw, the 'Wright' of
Curtiss-Wright was one of the Wright Brothers.
The Trial Court held that the
Joint Resolution was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power
to the President.
Basically the Trial Court
was saying that only Congress can make laws, they can't tell the
President to make a law.
The US Supreme Court reversed
and upheld the ban on arms sales.
The US Supreme Court found
that while the Constitution may not explicitly say that all ability to
conduct foreign policy on behalf of the nation is vested in the
President, that it is nonetheless given implicitly and by the fact that
the Executive, by its very nature, is empowered to conduct foreign
affairs in a way which Congress cannot and should not.
The Court distinguished the
President's authority in the area of domestic affairs from that of
The Court felt that the US
must speak with a single authoritative voice in foreign affairs. There
can't be a bunch of second-guessing and a chorus of independent voices
from Congress and the States.
The Court found that the
delegation of authority from Congress to the President was
The Court felt that the
because Joint Resolution came from Congress, it wasn't a case of the
President making the law, but
just executing a law made
The basic ruling here is that when
Congress authorizes it, the President
gains the power to make laws via executive order that he wouldn't normally
This case has been used to
argue that the President can do whatever he wants in the international
matters (see Hamdi v. Rumsfeld
(542 U.S. 507 (2004)) for example). But that's a misreading of the
ruling. In this case, Congress authorized the ban and set the penalties.
It wasn't generated by the President from whole cloth. All that was
delegated to the President was the determination of when
and where the ban should come into