The Youngstown Case.

The first case in the post-World War II era to consider extensively the “inherent” powers of the President, or the issue of what executive powers are vested by the first section of Article II, was Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer,35 but its multiple opinions did not reflect a uniform understanding of these matters. During the Korean War, President Truman seized the steel industry, then in the throes of a strike. No statute authorized the seizure, and the Solicitor General defended the action as an exercise of the President’s executive powers that were conveyed by the first section of Article II, by the obligation to enforce the laws, and by the vesting of the function of commander-in-chief. By vote of six-to-three, the Court rejected this argument and held the seizure void. But the doctrinal problem is complicated by the fact that Congress had expressly rejected seizure proposals in considering labor legislation and had authorized procedures not followed by the President that did not include seizure. Thus, four of the majority Justices36 appear to have been decisively influenced by the fact that Congress had denied the power claimed and that this in an area in which the Constitution vested the power to decide at least concurrently if not exclusively in Congress. Three and perhaps four Justices37 appear to have rejected the government’s argument on the merits while three38 accepted it in large measure. Despite the inconclusiveness of the opinions, it seems clear that the result was a substantial retreat from the proclamation of vast presidential powers made in Myers and Curtiss-Wright.39

Footnotes

35
343 U.S. 579 (1952). [Back to text]
36
343 U.S. 593, 597–602 (Justice Frankfurter concurring, though he also noted he expressly joined Justice Black’s opinion as well), 634, 635–40 (Justice Jackson concurring), 655, 657 (Justice Burton concurring), 660 (Justice Clark concurring). [Back to text]
37
343 U.S. at 582 (Justice Black delivering the opinion of the Court), 629 (Justice Douglas concurring, but note his use of the Fifth Amendment just compensation argument), 634 (Justice Jackson concurring), 655 (Justice Burton concurring). [Back to text]
38
343 U.S. at 667 (Chief Justice Vinson and Justices Reed and Minton dissenting). [Back to text]
39
Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52 (1926); United States v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., 299 U.S. 304 (1936). In Dames & Moore v. Regan, 453 U.S. 654, 659–62, 668–69 (1981), the Court turned to Youngstown as embodying “much relevant analysis” on an issue of presidential power. And, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557, 593 n.23 (2006), the Court cited Youngstown with approval, as did Justice Kennedy, in a concurring opinion joined by three other Justices, id. at 638. [Back to text]