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United States v. Curtiss-Wright

Citation. 299 U.S. 304 (1936)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The respondent argued that the delegation of the power to prescribe the sale of arms to certain countries by Congress to the President is invalid under the Constitution.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The President is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations.


In 1936, the appellees were charged for conspiracy to sell in the United States certain arms of war, namely, fifteen machine guns, to Bolivia, a country then engaged in armed conflict in the Chaco, in violation of the Joint Resolution of Congress and the provisions of a proclamation issued on the same day by the President pursuant to authority conferred by the resolution. It is alleged that the Joint Resolution constituted an unlawful delegation of legislative power to the Executive.


May the delegation of the power to prescribe the sale of arms to certain countries by Congress to the President be sustained on the ground that its exclusive aim is to afford a remedy for a hurtful condition within foreign country?


Yes, the powers to declare and wage war, to conclude peace, to make treaties, to maintain diplomatic relations with other sovereignties, if they had never been mentioned in the Constitution, would have vested in the federal government as necessary concomitants of nationality. In this vast external realm, with its important, complicated, duplicate and manifold problems, the President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation. He makes the treaties with the advise and consent of the Senate; but he alone negotiates. Congress itself is powerless to invade it.


It is apparent that if, in the maintenance of our international relations, embarrassment, is to be avoided and success for our aims achieved, congressional legislation which is to be made effective through negotiation and inquiry within the international field must often accord to the President a degree of discretion and freedom from statutory restriction which would not be admissible were domestic affairs alone involved. Also, the President, not Congress, has the better opportunity of knowing the conditions which prevail in foreign countries, and especially if this true in time of war. The President has his confidential sources of information and has his agents in the form of diplomatic, consular and other officials. Secrecy in respect of information gathered by them may be highly necessary, and the premature disclosure of it productive of harmful results.

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