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

Citation. 343 U.S. 579, 72 S.Ct. 863, 96 L.Ed. 1153 (1952).
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Citation. 343 U.S. 579, 72 S.Ct. 863, 96 L.Ed. 1153 (1952).

Brief Fact Summary.

To avoid a strike, President Truman ordered the Secretary of Commerce to seize control of the steel industry.  Congress had already rejected an Amendment to the Taft-Hartley Act that would have allowed for such seizures.  The President argued that the seizure was within his power as the Commander-in-Chief of the military.  The steel companies sued, alleging that the President violated separation of powers by engaging in lawmaking, a power expressly designated to Congress.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Even during times of war, the President may not seize private property to settle a labor dispute.  To be within the President’s power, the action “must stem either from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself.”


In 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act which subjected union practices to the federal government’s control.  The Act authorized the President to enjoin a strike if the strike would endanger national health and safety.  Congress, however, expressly rejected an amendment to the Act that would have allowed for the federal government to seize certain industries to avoid serious shut-downs.

In 1951, wage negotiations between the union and the steel industry deadlocked.  A few months later, the president of the steel union called for a strike.  In response, President Truman issued an executive order directing the Secretary of Commerce, Charles Sawyer, to seize the steel industry.  The executive order expressed how steel production was vital to the war effort, and, if steel production would cease, it would “jeopardize and imperil our national defense.”  The order enabled the Secretary to settle the dispute between the union and the industry by setting new wages.  Within an hour after the executive order, the steel companies sued to prevent the government from forcing them to settle upon a new wage.


Whether President Truman exceeded his power when he ordered the Secretary of Commerce to seize the steel industry.


JUSTICE BLACK holding:  Yes.  The order amounted to lawmaking.  The Constitution grants the lawmaking power to Congress, not the President.


Justice Vinson

The Chief Justice would have upheld the executive order.  Without the President issuing the order, all steel production would have ceased.  When facing national emergencies, the President, as Commander in Chief, must be able to respond with or without statutory authorization.


Justice Jackson

Believing that the Constitution cannot always operate under such a rigid approach, Justice Jackson wrote separately to advocate for a more flexible one.  In his view, the President’s powers fluctuate based on whether the President was acting with or without Congress’ blessing.  He separated the President’s power into three categories:

(1) The President’s power is at its maximum when he acts “pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress.”

(2) When Congress is silent, the President’s power is limited to the powers outlined in Article II.  However, there is a “zone of twilight” where the President and Congress have concurrent authority.  In this zone, congressional inaction may invite the President to step in, and whether President’s action is constitutional depends on the needs of the situation.

(3) The President’s power is at its lowest when he acts against Congress’ intent.  Here, the President “can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress.”

Justice Clark

“[W]here Congress has laid down specific procedures to deal with the type of crisis confronting the President, he must follow those procedures . . . .”


In invalidating the executive order, the Court reasoned that Congress had already rejected the idea of the federal government seizing deadlocked industries.  To be within the President’s power, the action “must stem either from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself.”  Because there was no statutory authority to implement the order, the Court examined the President’s powers under the Constitution.

As the Commander-in-Chief of the military, the President has broad power to address issues in the “theater of war.”  However, the President’s military authority does not grant him the power to seize private property to address labor disputes.  Nor was the President authorized to issue the order under the executive power.  Under Article II of the Constitution, the President’s lawmaking power is limited to recommending and vetoing laws.  The power to “make all laws,” however, was given expressly to Congress.  Under the Constitution, the President is to execute the laws enacted by Congress.  Here, the executive order “[did] not direct that a congressional policy be executed in a manner prescribed by Congress—it direct[ed] that a presidential policy be executed in a manner prescribed by the President.”  Therefore, President Truman violated separation of powers by encroaching on powers specifically granted to Congress.

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