Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer
343 U.S. 579 (1952)
During the Korean War,
President Truman decided not to use price controls to keep inflation down,
like was done in WWII. Instead, he created the Wage Stabilization Board
that sought to keep down the inflation of consumer prices and wages while
avoiding labor disputes whenever possible.
Truman's efforts failed to
avoid a threatened strike of all of the major steel producers by the
United Steel Workers when the steel industry rejected the board's proposed
wage increases unless they were allowed greater price increases than the
government was prepared to approve.
In response, Truman ordered
the seizure of the steel plants, intend to just run them with soldiers and
keep production flowing. The steel companies (led by Youngstown) sued and
requested an injunction against the seizure.
Truman could have invoked
the national emergency provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act to prevent the union from striking, rather
than seizing the plants.
During the debates in Congress
when passing the Taft-Hartley Act,
Congress expressly rejected the notion that the President should be
endowed with this authority.
Section 18 of the Selective
Service Act of 1948 might have
permitted seizure of the industry's steel plants.
The Trial Court issued an
injunction to stop the seizure. The government appealed.
Asked by the judge for the
source of the President's authority, the Attorney General offered, "Sections
1, 2 and 3 of Article II of the Constitution and whatever inherent,
implied or residual powers may flow therefrom."
The Attorney General also
took the position that "when the sovereign people adopted the
Constitution, it limited the powers of the Congress and limited the
powers of the judiciary, but it did not limit the powers of the
The Federal Appellate Court
stayed the injunction, but only until the US Supreme Court could rule on
the case, which they did 10 days later.
The US Supreme Court affirmed
the injunction and barred the President from seizing the plants.
The US Supreme Court found
that the President did not have the authority to issue such an order.
Although there was a majority opinion, there were numerous arguments made
by individual judges.
There were two arguments
made by the administration. First, the President had the authority to
act independently from Congress. Second, the President had
authorization from Congress anyway.
The Court found that the
President had no power to act except in those cases expressly or
implicitly authorized by the Constitution or an act of Congress.
The Court found that,
"The President's power to see that the laws are faithfully executed
refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker." Basically, that
means that the President's power only extends to recommending laws to
Congress and vetoing laws. The President cannot make law.
What does it mean to make
the law? Here, the President issued an executive order to seize the
steel mills. If the President had issued an executive order to force
the parties to act in accordance with Congressional laws, the order
would have been legal.
Compare this to the current
administrative system, where Executive Branch agencies (FDA, EPA, etc.)
independently make laws. However, these agencies have a blanket
authorization from Congress to make laws (take an Administrative Law
class to understand why this is legal).
The Court found that there
was no congressional Statute that authorized the President to take
possession of private property.
The Taft-Hartley Act explicitly rejected giving the President
The Court found that the
President's military power as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces did
not extend to labor disputes. He is the Commander-in-Chief of the
military, not the entire United States!
It's certainly not explicit
in the Constitution that the President can seize steel mills. However,
it could be argued that since the President is the Commander-in-Chief,
there is an implicit power.
The argument that Article
II includes unlimited implicit
power was later rejected in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (542 U.S. 507 (2004)).
At a minimum, the President
needs Congressional concurrence, since they are the ones that make the
In a dissent, it was argued
that the President submitted his executive order to Congress, and they
remained silent on the issue. Silence equals approval. In addition, the
dissent argued that the President did have inherent powers to do what was necessary, as long as the Constitution is not explicitly
The dissent mentions a
number of instances when the President took powers that were not
explicitly in the Constitution, such as when Jefferson made the Louisiana
The dissent argued that
under certain circumstances, if Congress has not acted, their silence can
be taken as approval for the President to act.
inertia, indifference or quiescence may sometimes, at least as a
practical matter, enable, if not invite, measures on independent
presidential responsibility. In this area, any actual test of power is
likely to depend on the imperatives of events and contemporary
imponderables rather than abstract theories of law."
A question that has still not
been conclusively answered is whether the President requires explicit
Congressional authorization to act, or, as an equal branch of government,
can the President act independent of Congress, at least to do things that
Congress has not explicitly forbidden?
Look at Dames & Moore
v. Regan (453 U.S. 654 (1981)),
where the President was attempting to do something that Congress had not
In this case, Justice
Douglas argued that the 5th Amendment says that private property can't be taken for public purposes
without just compensation. Since the only branch of government that can
authorize the Federal government to pay out money is the Legislature,
clearly Congress is required to authorize the seizure, else it is a
violation of either the 5th Amendment, or the Separation of Powers Clause.
Justice Douglas implicitly
argues that the President does have authority to do things, as long as
those things do not usurp the powers of another branch.
Even if Congress passed a
Statute allowing the President to have this seizure power, would it still
be unconstitutional? It has been held numerous times that even when
branches of government agree, there can still be Constitutional issues.
The Constitution is here to
protect the American citizens from tyranny of their government. Even if
Congress and the President conspire to override a Constitutional
provision, that provision still exists. You can't change the
Constitution except through the Constitutional amendment process. (see Buckley
v. Valeo (424 U.S. 1 (1976)) and New
York v. United States (505 U.S. 144