Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company v. Sawyer

From Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company v. Sawyer 343 U.S. 579 (1952)

This case arose out of President Truman's order to seize and operate steel mills across the country, in order to prevent a strike. The President argued that a strike would shut down production of steel-which was crucial for ongoing military efforts in Korea-and would thereby jeopardize national defense.

The Court said that no law existed authorizing the President to take such an action, and several laws prohibited seizure of private property. The Court decided that the President could not rely on his war powers to seize steel mills. Only Congress could authorize such an action.

From the concurring opinion by Justice Jackson:

That military powers of the Commander in Chief were not to supersede representative government of internal affairs seems obvious from the Constitution and from elementary American history. Time out of mind, and even now in many parts of the world, a military commander can seize private housing to shelter his troops. Not so, however, in the United States, for the Third Amendment says, "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law." Thus, even in war time, his seizure of needed military housing must be authorized by Congress. It also was expressly left to Congress to "provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions...." Such a limitation on the command power, written at a time when the militia rather than a standing army was contemplated as the military weapon of the Republic, underscores the Constitution's policy that Congress, not the Executive, should control utilization of the war power as an instrument of domestic policy. Congress, fulfilling that function, has authorized the President to use the army to enforce certain civil rights. On the other hand. Congress has forbidden him to use the army for the purpose of executing general laws except when expressly authorized by the Constitution or by Act of Congress.


Focus Questions

1. What clauses of the Constitution does Judge Jackson identify limiting the powers of the President as Commander in Chief? How might these clauses reflect the concerns of citizens in 1789?

2. What are the advantages of interpreting a statute that relates to presidential war powers broadly, so that the President has substantial leeway in the exercise of his authority? What are the disadvantages?

3. In Federalist No. 74, Alexander Hamilton wrote, "Of all the cares or concerns of government, the direction of war most peculiarly demands those qualities which distinguish the exercise of power by a single hand." Do limitations on the President's war powers prevent the President from effectively directing a war? Why?

4. Is it important to maintain a separation of powers between the branches of government in time of war? Why or why not? Do you think the balance of powers between Congress and the Executive shifts in time of war?

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