When steel mill workers were preparing to strike during the Korean War, the President ordered the seizure of steel mills in order to ensure steel production. The steel mill owners brought suit against the President.
The President’s power to issue an order must stem from an act of Congress or the U.S. Constitution.
During the Korean War, there was a dispute over a collective bargaining agreement at the steel mill and the workers were prepared to strike. The President believed that the work stoppage would jeopardize national defense and that government seizure of the mills was necessary to ensure the continued availability of steel. He thus ordered the Secretary of Commerce to take possession of most of the steel mills and keep them running. The steel mill companies brought suit against the President, arguing that the seizure was not authorized by Congress or any constitutional provision.
Was the President acting within his constitutional power when he issued an order directing the Secretary of Commerce to seize and operate the nation’s steel mills?
No. the President was not acting within his constitutional power when he directed the government to seize the nation’s steel mills.
Flexibility as to execution of laws to meet critical situations is a matter of practical necessity. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. The President acted in full conformity with his duties under the Constitution.
When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum. When the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority, he can only rely upon his own independent powers. When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter.
The President’s power to issue the order must stem from an act of Congress or the Constitution itself. The President was not acting pursuant to any act of Congress – in fact, prior to this controversy Congress had expressly rejected an amendment which would have authorized such governmental seizures in cases of emergency. Moreover, the President did not have authority under the Constitution because there is no such provision giving the President the power to take possession of private property in order to keep labor disputes from stopping production. In the framework of the Constitution, the President’s power to see that the laws are faithfully executed; however, this is differentiated from the idea that the President is a lawmaker.