Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579; 72 S. Ct. 863; 96 L. Ed. 817 (1952)

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579; 72 S. Ct. 863; 96 L. Ed. 817 (1952)

Facts—In 1951 a dispute arose between the steel companies and their employees over terms and conditions in new collective bargaining agreements. Long-continued conferences failed to settle the dispute. The employees’ representative, United Steel Workers of America, CIO, announced its intention to strike when the agreements expired on December 31. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service intervened, but unsuccessfully, and the president then referred the dispute to the Federal Wage Stabilization Board to investigate and make recommendations for fair and equitable terms of settlement. This failing, the union called for a nationwide strike to begin at 12:01 a.m., April 9. The indispensability of steel led President Truman to believe that the proposed strike would immediately jeopardize national defense (the United States was engaged in conflict in Korea), and he issued an executive order directing Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer to seize the steel mills and keep them running.

Question—Is the seizure order within the constitutional power of the president?


ReasonsJ. Black (6–3). The power of the president to issue such an order must stem from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself. Only two statutes authorize seizure under certain conditions, but the government admitted these conditions were not met. Moreover, the Congress rejected an amendment to the Taft-Hartley Act authorizing governmental seizures in an emergency. Nor is there any provision in the Constitution that would warrant this seizure. As commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, the president has no right to seize private property to keep labor disputes from stopping production. This was a matter of Congress only, not for military authorities. Neither does the Constitution permit the president to legislate—a function that belongs only to Congress, in good times or in bad times. “This seizure order cannot stand.”

In a notable concurring opinion, J. Jackson distinguished among cases where a president was acting with the consent of Congress (and his pow- ers were therefore at their maximum), where a president was acting in the absence of congressional authorization (a kind of twilight zone), and cases (where presidential powers were at their minimum) where the president was acting contrary to congressional specification. Since Congress had specifically rejected the idea of granting the president the power to seize industry, Jackson though this case fell within the latter category.

J. Vinson, J. Reed, and J. Minton thought that the majority opinion reduced the president’s role to that of a congressional errand boy and would have deferred to the president’s view that his intervention was necessary for national defense.

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