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

Citation:343 U.S. 579, 72 S.Ct. 863, 96 L.Ed. 1153
Party Name:Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer
Case Date:June 02, 1952
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 579

343 U.S. 579 (1952)

72 S.Ct. 863, 96 L.Ed. 1153

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.



United States Supreme Court

June 2, 1952




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. 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. 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. 585.

Page 580

2. The Executive Order was not authorized by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and it cannot stand. Pp. 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. 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. 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. 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. 587.

(e) Nor can the Order be sustained because of the several provisions of Article II which grant executive power to the President. Pp. 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. 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. 588-589.

103 F.Supp. 569, affirmed.

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

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

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

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

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

For dissenting opinion of MR. CHIEF JUSTICE VINSON, joined by MR. JUSTICE REED and MR. JUSTICE MINTON, see post, p. 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 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. 589.

Page 582

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

We are asked to decide whether the President was acting within his constitutional power when he issued an order directing the Secretary of Commerce to take possession of and operate most of the Nation's steel mills. The mill owners argue that the President's order amounts to lawmaking, a legislative function which the Constitution has expressly confided to the Congress, and not to the President. The Government's position is that the order was made on findings of the President that his action was necessary to avert a national catastrophe which would inevitably result from a stoppage of steel production, and that, in meeting this grave emergency, the President was acting within the aggregate of his constitutional powers as the Nation's Chief Executive and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States. The issue emerges here from the following series of events:

In the latter part of 1951, a dispute arose between the steel companies and their employees over terms and conditions that should be included in new collective bargaining agreements. Long-continued conferences failed to resolve the dispute. On December 18, 1951, the employees' representative, United Steelworkers of America, CIO, gave notice of an intention to strike when the existing bargaining agreements expired on December 31. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service then intervened in an effort to get labor and management to agree. This failing, the President on December 22, 1951, referred the dispute to the Federal Wage Stabilization

Page 583

Board1 to investigate and make recommendations for fair and equitable terms of settlement. This Board's report resulted in no settlement. On April 4, 1952, the Union gave notice of a nationwide strike called to begin at 12:01 a.m. April 9. The [72 S.Ct. 865] indispensability of steel as a component of substantially all weapons and other war materials led the President to believe that the proposed work stoppage would immediately jeopardize our national defense and that governmental seizure of the steel mills was necessary in order to assure the continued availability of steel. Reciting these considerations for his action, the President, a few hours before the strike was to begin, issued Executive Order 10340, a copy of which is attached as an appendix, post, p. 589. The order directed the Secretary of Commerce to take possession of most of the steel mills and keep them running. The Secretary immediately issued his own possessory orders, calling upon the presidents of the various seized companies to serve as operating managers for the United States. They were directed to carry on their activities in accordance with regulations and directions of the Secretary. The next morning the President sent a message to Congress reporting his action. Cong.Rec. April 9, 1952, p. 3962. Twelve days later, he sent a second message. Cong.Rec. April 21, 1952, p. 4192. Congress has taken no action.

Obeying the Secretary's orders under protest, the companies brought proceedings against him in the District Court. Their complaints charged that the seizure was not authorized by an act of Congress or by any constitutional provisions. The District Court was asked to declare the orders of the President and the Secretary invalid and to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions restraining their enforcement. Opposing the motion for preliminary

Page 584

injunction, the United States asserted that a strike disrupting steel production for even a brief period would so endanger the wellbeing and safety of the Nation that the President had "inherent power" to do what he had done -- power "supported by the Constitution, by historical precedent, and by court decisions." The Government also contended that, in any event, no preliminary injunction should be issued, because the companies had made no showing that their available legal remedies were inadequate or that their injuries from seizure would be irreparable. Holding against the Government on all points, the District Court, on April 30, issued a preliminary injunction restraining the Secretary from "continuing the seizure and possession of the plants . . . and from acting under the purported authority of Executive Order No. 10340." 103 F.Supp. 569. On the same day, the Court of Appeals stayed the District Court's injunction. 90 U.S.App.D.C. ___, 197 F.2d 582. Deeming it best that the issues raised be promptly decided by this Court, we granted certiorari on May 3 and set the cause for argument on May 12. 343 U.S. 937.

Two crucial issues have developed: First. Should final determination of the constitutional validity of the President's order be made in this case which has proceeded no further than the preliminary injunction stage? Second. If so, is the seizure order within the constitutional power of the President?


It is urged that there were nonconstitutional grounds upon which the District Court could have denied the preliminary injunction, and thus have followed the customary judicial practice of declining to reach and decide constitutional questions until compelled to do so. On this basis, it is argued that equity's extraordinary injunctive relief should have been denied because (a) seizure of the companies' properties did not inflict irreparable damages,

Page 585

and (b) there were available legal remedies adequate to afford compensation for any possible damages which they might suffer. While separately...

To continue reading