Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer,
343 U.S. 579 (1952)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952)

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer

Argued May 12-13, 1952

Decided June 2, 1952*

343 U.S. 579


To avert a nationwide strike of steel workers in April 1952, which he believed would jeopardize national defense, the President issued an Executive Order directing the Secretary of Commerce to seize and operate most of the steel mills. The Order was not based upon any specific statutory authority, but was based generally upon all powers vested in the President by the Constitution and laws of the United States and as President of the United States and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The Secretary issued an order seizing the steel mills and directing their presidents to operate them as operating managers for the United States in accordance with his regulations and directions. The President promptly reported these events to Congress; but Congress took no action. It had provided other methods of dealing with such situations, and had refused to authorize governmental seizures of property to settle labor disputes. The steel companies sued the Secretary in a Federal District Court, praying for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. The District Court issued a preliminary injunction, which the Court of Appeals stayed.


1. Although this case has proceeded no further than the preliminary injunction stage, it is ripe for determination of the constitutional validity of the Executive Order on the record presented. Pp. 343 U. S. 584-585.

(a) Under prior decisions of this Court, there is doubt as to the right to recover in the Court of Claims on account of properties unlawfully taken by government officials for public use. P. 343 U. S. 585.

(b) Seizure and governmental operation of these going businesses were bound to result in many present and future damages of such nature as to be difficult, if not incapable, of measurement. P. 343 U. S. 585.

Page 343 U. S. 580

2. The Executive Order was not authorized by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and it cannot stand. Pp. 343 U. S. 585-589.

(a) There is no statute which expressly or impliedly authorizes the President to take possession of this property as he did here. Pp. 343 U. S. 585-586.

(b) In its consideration of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, Congress refused to authorize governmental seizures of property as a method of preventing work stoppages and settling labor disputes. P. 343 U. S. 586.

(c) Authority of the President to issue such an order in the circumstances of this case cannot be implied from the aggregate of his powers under Article II of the Constitution. Pp. 343 U. S. 587-589.

(d) The Order cannot properly be sustained as an exercise of the President's military power as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. P. 343 U. S. 587.

(e) Nor can the Order be sustained because of the several provisions of Article II which grant executive power to the President. Pp. 343 U. S. 587-589.

(f) The power here sought to be exercised is the lawmaking power, which the Constitution vests in the Congress alone, in both good and bad times. Pp. 343 U. S. 587-589.

(g) Even if it be true that other Presidents have taken possession of private business enterprises without congressional authority in order to settle labor disputes, Congress has not thereby lost its exclusive constitutional authority to make the laws necessary and proper to carry out all powers vested by the Constitution "in the Government of the United States, or any Department or Officer thereof." Pp. 343 U. S. 588-589.

103 F.Supp. 569, affirmed.

For concurring opinion of MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, see post, p. 343 U. S. 593.

For concurring opinion of MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, see post, p. 343 U. S. 629.

For concurring opinion of MR. JUSTICE JACKSON, see post, p. 343 U. S. 634.

For concurring opinion of MR. JUSTICE BURTON, see post, p. 343 U. S. 655.

For opinion of MR. JUSTICE CLARK, concurring in the judgment of the Court, see post, p. 343 U. S. 660.

For dissenting opinion of MR. CHIEF JUSTICE VINSON, joined by MR. JUSTICE REED and MR. JUSTICE MINTON, see post, p. 343 U. S. 667.

The District Court issued a preliminary injunction restraining the Secretary of Commerce from carrying out the terms of Executive Order No. 10340, 16 Fed.Reg.

Page 343 U. S. 581

3503. 103 F.Supp. 569. The Court of Appeals issued a stay. 90 U.S.App.D.C. ___, 197 F.2d 582. This Court granted certiorari. 343 U. S. 937. The judgment of the District Court is affirmed, p. 343 U. S. 589.

Page 343 U. S. 582

Primary Holding

Unless based on specific authority from the Constitution or Congress, seizures of private property by the executive branch are invalid.


Following a United Nations resolution, President Harry Truman brought the United States into the Korean War after North Korea invaded South Korea. There was no congressional declaration of war to support his action. To further the war effort, the government relied on defense contractors that in turn relied on the steel industry. Truman created a Wage Stabilization Board that was designed to minimize labor disputes while curbing the inflation of prices and wages. During this time, however, the United Steel Workers of America planned to launch a nationwide strike across all of the major steel producers based on the industry's reluctance to grant wage increases without an increase in prices by the government.

The strike loomed ever closer as both sides showed no interest in compromise. Determined to keep supplies flowing to the troops in Korea, Truman seized the production facilities of the steel companies so that they could be operated by the federal government under their current management. There were several alternatives to this aggressive move. The government could have used the Taft-Hartley Act to declare a national emergency and forestall the union's strike, but the fault for the dispute seemed to lie more with the industry than the union. The government also could have used the recently passed Selective Service Act, but the process required by this law seemed too cumbersome for the demands of the time-sensitive situation. For the same reasons, Truman relied on the inherent powers of the President rather than seeking special Congressional authorization. These decisions would prove costly.

After Truman announced the seizure to the national media, the steel industry sought a temporary restraining order from a federal district judge. He denied the motion on equitable grounds, but a different judge issued a preliminary injunction after a possible tactical error by an assistant Attorney General, which suggested that the government supported a spectacularly broad interpretation of executive power. (Not even Truman likely agreed with this view.)

Once the government was ordered to surrender its control of the steel plants, the union began the strike. On appeal, however, the government received a stay of the injunction pending review by the Supreme Court. Negotiations stalled after the court issued the stay, since it also barred increasing wages while review was pending and left the steel industry with no motivation to meet the union's demands.

Procedural History

US District Court for the District of Columbia - 103 F. Supp. 569 (D. D.C. 1952)

Injunction granted. The government does not have the power to seize the steel mills and operate them under its authority.

US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit - 197 F.2d 582 (D.C. Cir. 1952)

Injunction stayed. The government may retain control of the steel mills until the Supreme Court reviews the dispute.


  • John W. Davis (plaintiffs)
  • Arthur Goldberg (plaintiffs)
  • Philip B. Perlman (defendants)



  • Hugo Lafayette Black (Author)
  • Felix Frankfurter
  • William Orville Douglas
  • Robert Houghwout Jackson
  • Harold Hitz Burton

The formalist perspective of Black led him to argue for a clear rule that only authorization by Congress or the Constitution, whether explicit or implicit, could give the President the power to act.


  • William Orville Douglas (Author)

Similar to Black, Douglas felt that even a national emergency did not give the President inherent powers beyond those that could be found in the Constitution or were granted by Congress.


  • Felix Frankfurter (Author)

Although he took a more measured approach than Black and Douglas, Frankfurter analyzed the legislative history surrounding the Taft-Hartley Act and similar provisions in finding that Congress had shown its opposition to this type of executive action. If Congress had passively accepted it, even without formally authorizing it, that might have been enough for Frankfurter to accept its legitimacy. The lack of a formal declaration of war played a role in his analysis.


  • Robert Houghwout Jackson (Author)

Although he did not write the majority opinion, Jackson crafted the most influential perspective on this case. He cleanly identified three categories of situations that could involve the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches. The President would be owed the greatest deference when he had received authority from Congress, whether explicit or implicit. In the middle category lay situations in which Congress was silent, known as the twilight zone. This case, however, fell in the third and most problematic category for the government, which contains situations when the President directly conflicts with Congress.


  • Harold Hitz Burton (Author)

Like Frankfurter, Burton examined the legislative history of the Taft-Hartley Act. He argued that only Congress could take this type of emergency action through its authority to make laws, and nothing in his statutory analysis persuaded him that it would permit the President to carry out these seizures without its consent.


  • Tom C. Clark (Author)

In a vaguely written opinion, Clark suggested that the availability of alternatives was fatal to the legitimacy of the President's action. He identified the procedures under the Taft-Hartley Act and the Selective Service Act as well as the Defense Production Act that the executive branch had failed to use. His background as U.S. Attorney General may have persuaded him to take a relatively lenient view of the President's inherent power in national emergencies, but it did not extend so far that he believed the President able to disregard the procedures specifically outlined by Congress.


  • Frederick Moore Vinson (Author)
  • Stanley Forman Reed
  • Sherman Minton

Although he recognized the control of Congress over the area of enacting legislation, Vinson felt that the national emergency gave the President the inherent authority to seize property to further the war effort. He pointed out that Congress could respond by signaling its approval or disapproval, at which stage the courts could intervene to resolve a dispute between the branches. Vinson saw the seizures as simply freezing the current situation in place rather than as an aggressive intervention.

Case Commentary

This case is notable for the fact that every Justice in the majority wrote a separate opinion, using several different rationales to reach the same conclusion. It is difficult to determine what rule to extract from it or how broadly it applies, especially considering how clumsily the government had framed the issue at the outset. Youngstown remains a rare example of judicial intervention in an area affecting the President's authority over foreign affairs, and it has shrunk from applying it in some recent cases. In general, the standards advocated by Jackson and Frankfurter have proved the most influential when the Court has used Youngstown to address a political dispute between Congress and the President.

An embarrassed Truman relinquished the steel mills to their owners, which led to the resumption of the strike. The dispute smoldered until Truman ended it by preparing to resort to the Selective Service Act procedures to seize the mills with the proper authority.

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