Present Status of the Debs Case.

Insofar as the use of in- junctive relief in labor disputes is concerned, enactment of the Norris-LaGuardia Act759 placed substantial restrictions on the power of federal courts to issue injunctions in such situations. Though, in United States v. UMW,760 the Court held that the Norris-LaGuardia Act did not apply where the government brought suit as operator of mines, language in the opinion appeared to go a good way toward repudiating the present viability of Debs, though more in terms of congressional limitations than of revised judicial opinion.761 It should be noted that in 1947 Congress authorized the President to seek injunctive relief in “national emergency” labor disputes, which would seem to imply absence of authority to act in situations not meeting the statutory definition.762

With regard to the power of the President to seek injunctive relief in other situations without statutory authority, there is no clear precedent. In New York Times Co. v. United States,763 the government sought to enjoin two newspapers from publishing classified material given to them by a dissident former governmental employee. Though the Supreme Court rejected the Government’s claim, five of the six majority Justices relied on First Amendment grounds, apparently assuming basic power to bring the action in the first place, and three dissenters were willing to uphold the constitutionality of the Government’s action and its basic power on the premise that the President was authorized to protect the secrecy of governmental documents. Only one Justice denied expressly that power was lacking altogether to sue.764


47 Stat. 170 (1932), 29 U.S.C. §§ 101115. back
330 U.S. 258 (1947). In reaching the result, Chief Justice Vinson invoked the “rule that statutes which in general terms divest preexisting rights or privileges will not be applied to the sovereign without express words to that effect.” Id. at 272. back
Thus, the Chief Justice noted that “we agree” that the debates on Norris-LaGuardia “indicate that Congress, in passing the Act, did not intend to permit the United States to continue to intervene by injunction in purely private labor disputes.” Of course, he continued, “whether Congress so intended or not is a question different from the one before us now.” 330 U.S. at 278. back
61 Stat. 136, 155 (1947), 29 U.S.C. §§ 176180. Cf. Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952), with regard to the exclusivity of proceeding. back
403 U.S. 713 (1971). back
On Justice Marshall’s view on the lack of authorization, see 403 U.S. at 740–48 (concurring opinion); for the dissenters on this issue, see id. at 752, 755–59 (Justice Harlan, with whom Chief Justice Burger and Justice Blackmun joined); see also id. at 727, 729–30 (Justice Stewart, joined by Justice White, concurring). back