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 Executive”
  • 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 this power.
    • 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 appropriations.
  • 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 violated.
    • 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 Purchase.
    • The dissent argued that under certain circumstances, if Congress has not acted, their silence can be taken as approval for the President to act.
      • “Congressional 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 previously debated.
    • 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 (1992))).