Subject: Mr. Keeley. Look at the Supreme Court decision...
how can this Supreme Court decision be brought to light regarding the
electronic surveillance that Bush and Chaney have initiated?
YOUNGSTOWN SHEET & TUBE CO. V SAWYER (1952)
If the recall of General MacArthur reaffirmed the tradition of civilian
control over the military, the Steel Seizure case reminded the nation that,
even in a war, the president could not act beyond the bounds of his
In April 1952, President Truman ordered seizure of the nation's steel mills
in order to forestall a strike which, he claimed, would have seriously
harmed the nation during the Korean conflict. Although there was a law on
the books, the Taft-Hartley Act, which gave the president the power to
impose an eighty-day "cooling off" period when a strike was threatened,
Truman refused to use that law, since he had opposed its passage in the
first place. He also chose not to ask Congress for special legislation.
Instead, he chose to take over control of the companies under his emergency
war powers as commander-in-chief.
The steel companies did not deny that the government could take over their
property in emergencies. Rather, they claimed that the wrong branch of the
government had proceeded against them; in essence, they sued the president
on behalf of Congress on the basis that the presidential action had violated
the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers. Six members of the
Court agreed, and Justice Hugo Black's majority opinion made a strong case
for requiring the president, even in wartime, to abide by established rules.
>From a constitutional standpoint, Youngstown remains one of the "great"
modern cases, in that it helped to redress the balance of power among the
three branches of government, a balance that had been severely distorted by
the enormous growth of the executive branch and its powers first during the
Depression, then during the war and the subsequent postwar search for global
For further reading: Maeva Marcus, Truman and the Steel Seizure Case: The
Limits of Presidential Power (1977); Alan F. Westin, The Anatomy of a
Constitutional Law Case: Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer; The Steel
Seizure Decision (1958).
YOUNGSTOWN SHEET & TUBE CO. V. SAWYER
Justice Black delivered the opinion of the Court.
We are asked to decide whether the President ... was acting within his
constitutional power when he issued an order directing the Secretary of
Commerce to take possession of and operate most of the Nation's steel mills.
The mill owners argued that the President's order amounts to lawmaking, a
legislative function which the Constitution has expressly confided to the
Congress and not to the President. The Government's position is that the
order was made on findings of the President that his action was necessary to
avert a national catastrophe which would inevitably result from a stoppage
of steel production, and that in meeting this grave emergency the President
was acting within the aggregate of his constitutional powers as the Nation's
Chief Executive and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United
The President's power, if any, to issue the order must stem either from an
act of Congress or from the Constitution itself. There is no statute that
expressly authorizes the President to take possession of property as he did
here. Nor is there any act of Congress to which our attention has been
directed from which such a power can fairly be implied. There are two
statutes which do authorize the President to take both personal and real
property under certain conditions....However, the Government admits that
these conditions were not met and that the President's order was not rooted
in either of the statutes....
Moreover, the use of the seizures technique to solve labor disputes in order
to prevent work stoppages was not only unauthorized by any congressional
enactment; prior to this controversy, Congress had refused to adopt that
method of settling labor disputes. When the Taft-Hartley Act was under
consideration in 1947, Congress rejected an amendment which would have
authorized such governmental seizures in cases of emergency. Instead, the
plan sought to bring about settlements by use of the customary devices of
mediation, conciliation, investigations by boards of inquiry, and public
reports. In some instances temporary injunctions were authorized to provide
cooling-off periods. All this failing, unions were left free to strike....
It is clear that if the president had authority to issue the order he did,
it must be found in some provision of the Constitution. And it is not
claimed that express constitutional language grants this power to the
President. The contention is that presidential power should be implied from
the aggregate of his powers under the Constitution. Particular reliance is
placed on provisions in Article II which say that "The executive Power shall
be vested in a President"; that "he shall take Care that the Laws be
faithfully executed"; and that he "shall be Commander in Chief of the Army
and Navy of the United States."
The order cannot properly be sustained as an exercise of the President's
military power as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The Government
attempts to do so by citing a number of cases upholding broad powers in
military commanders engaged in day-to-day fighting in a theater of war. Such
cases need not concern us here. Even though "theater of war" be an expanding
concept, we cannot with faithfulness to our constitutional system hold that
the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces has the ultimate power as such to
take possession of private property in order to keep labor disputes from
stopping production. This is a job for the Nation's lawmakers, not for its
Nor can the seizure order be sustained because of the several constitutional
provisions that grant executive power to the President. In the framework of
our Constitution, the President's power to see that the laws are faithfully
executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker. The Constitution
limits his functions in the law-making process to the recommending of laws
he thinks wise and the vetoing of laws he thinks bad. And the Constitution
is neither silent nor equivocal about who shall make laws which the
President is to execute....
The President's order does not direct that a congressional policy be
executed in a manner prescribed by Congress -- it directs that a
presidential policy be executed in a manner prescribed by the President. The
preamble of the order itself, like that of many statutes, sets out reasons
why the President believes certain policies should be adopted, proclaims
these policies as rules of conduct to be followed, and again, like a
statute, authorizes a government official to promulgate additional rules and
regulations consistent with the policy proclaimed and needed to carry that
policy into execution. The power of Congress to adopt such public policies
as those proclaimed by the order is beyond question. It can authorize the
taking of private property for public use. It can make laws regulating the
relationships between employers and employees, prescribing rules designed to
settle labor disputes, and fixing wages and working conditions in certain
fields of our economy. The Constitution does not subject this lawmaking
power of Congress to presidential or military supervision or control.
It is said that other Presidents without congressional authority have taken
possession of private business enterprises in order to settle labor
disputes. But even if this be true, Congress has not thereby lost its
exclusive constitutional authority to make laws necessary and proper to
carry out the powers vested by the Constitution "in the Government of the
United States, or any Department or Officer thereof."
The Founders of this Nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress
alone in both good and bad times. It would do no good to recall the
historical events, the fears of power and the hopes for freedom that lay
behind their choice. Such a review would but confirm our holding that this
seizure order cannot stand.
Source: 343 U.S. 579 (1952).