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Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (The Steel Seizure Case)

    Brief Fact Summary. During the Korean War, President Truman in order to avoid a strike that would impede the war effort, issued an executive order seizing the mills and operating them under federal direction.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The President has limited inherent authority. He may have a legislative power in “theaters of war”. The President can act without Congress when it is an emergency and Congress has not negated such action that the President wishes to undertake.

    Facts. During the Korean War, President Truman seized the steel mills so that a strike would not impede the Korean War effort. The United Steel Workers were upset that they were not getting paid enough and wanted a raise. President Truman was afraid that a strike would cause the United States to run out of steel. Congress had allowed the strike with the Taft Hartley Act passed in 1947 over President Truman’s veto. The Act gave the president the power to get an injunction against such strikes but Congress had rejected an amendment to permit government seizures to avoid serious shutdowns.

    Issue. Can President Truman acting under the aggregate of his powers, exercise a law making power independent of Congress in order to protect serious national interests?

    Held. Justice Black opinion. No.
    Although Article II Section: 1 grants executive power to the President to execute the laws. His general executive power is inapplicable since there was no relevant law here to execute. Under Section 2, the Commander in Chief power does not warrant the seizure here either, since it was lawmaking and too far removed from the “theater of war”. That power did not include the President being able to take possession of private property in order to keep labor disputes from stopping production. That is the job for the Nation’s lawmakers and not for its military authorities. The Founders of the Nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone in good and bad times.

    Dissent. Chief Justice Vinson, Justices Reed and Minton dissenting.
    There was legislation authorizing the supplying of the forces engaged in the Korean War. The President had a duty to execute the foregoing legislative programs and successful execution depended upon continued production of steel and stabilized prices for steel.
    Work stoppage would have resulted in a serious curtailment of production of essential weapons and munitions of all kinds. The President was acting to save the legislative programs and in that sense he was there to take care that the laws were faithfully executed. He had to execute a defense program which Congress had enacted and strike would have had a disastrous effect on those programs. The President acted to preserve those programs by seizing the steel mills. It was temporary and subject to congressional direction. Presidents in the past have acted in the same way.
    Concurrence. All of the Justices who joined Justice Black’s opinion for the Court also wrote individual concurring opinions.
    Justice Frankfurter stated that questions concerning the extent of the Presidential power in the absence of legislation were not before the Court. The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 was an explicit Congressional negation of the authority asserted by the seizure
    Justice Burton stated that the controlling fact was that Congress had prescribed specific procedures and they did include seizure for this emergency.
    Justice Douglas emphasized the Fifth Amendment’s requirement for compensation for takings of property.
    Justice Jackson said that the President had inherent legislative powers to act in preserving the nation, but only when there was an absence of any provision passed by Congress purporting to deal with the situation.
    Justice Clark stated that the President must follow the procedures laid down by Congress in the Act. If Congress had not acted, then in the absence of Congressional action, the President’s independent power to act depends on the gravity of the situation confronting the nation.

    Discussion. The majority described this as inherent power, while the dissent argued this was implied power.
    If there had been an emergency and Congress had declined or neglected to act, then the President would have had the narrow sliver of authority to seize the steel mills. This is inherent power.
    The dissent argued that the President exercised his implied powers to take care that the laws were faithfully executed. Since the list in the United States Constitution of the President’s powers is not exclusive, then as long as the President’s act seems reasonably related to carrying out the laws made by Congress, the Court will not strike the act merely because it does not fall within any narrow enumerated presidential power.


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