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.