Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company: KTB American Government and Civics Series
Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company v. Sawyer (1952) is the 96th landmark Supreme Court case featured in the KTB Prep American Government and Civics series designed to acquaint users with the origins, concepts, organizations, and policies of the United States government and political system. The goal is greater familiarization with the rights and obligations of citizenship at the local, state, national, and global levels and the history of our nation as a democracy. While there is overlap, these landmark cases are separated into cases addressing:
- Foreign Policy
- Science & Technology
- Public Safety
- Death Penalty
- Speech, Press, and Protest
- Criminal Justice
- Politics, Society, Freedom, and Equality
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. Article III of the U.S. Constitution created the Supreme Court and authorized Congress to pass laws establishing a system of lower courts. The Constitution elaborated neither the exact powers and prerogatives of the Supreme Court nor the organization of the Judicial Branch as a whole. Thus, it has been left to Congress and to the Justices of the Court through their decisions to develop the Federal Judiciary and a body of Federal law.
The number of Justices on the Supreme Court changed six times before settling at the present total of nine in 1869. Since the formation of the Court in 1790, there have been only 17 Chief Justices* and 102 Associate Justices, with Justices serving for an average of 16 years. On average a new Justice joins the Court almost every two years.
The Supreme Court of the United States hears about 100 to 150 appeals of the more than 7,000 cases it is asked to review every year. That means the decisions made by the 12 Circuit Courts of Appeals across the country and the Federal Circuit Court are the last word in thousands of cases.
Court of Appeals
In the federal court system’s present form, 94 district level trial courts and 13 courts of appeals sit below the Supreme Court. The 94 federal judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a court of appeals. The appellate court’s task is to determine whether or not the law was applied correctly in the trial court. Appeals courts consist of three judges and do not use a jury.
The appellate courts do not retry cases or hear new evidence. They do not hear witnesses testify. There is no jury. Appellate courts review the procedures and the decisions in the trial court to make sure that the proceedings were fair and that the proper law was applied correctly.
A court of appeals hears challenges to district court decisions from courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws, and cases decided by the U.S. Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
The nation’s 94 trial courts are called U.S. District Courts. At a trial in a U.S. District Court, witnesses give testimony and a judge or jury decides who is guilty or not guilty — or who is liable or not liable. District courts resolve disputes by determining the facts and applying legal principles to decide who is right.
Trial courts include the district judge who tries the case and a jury that decides the case. Magistrate judges assist district judges in preparing cases for trial. They may also conduct trials in misdemeanor cases.
There is at least one district court in each state, and the District of Columbia. Each district includes a U.S. bankruptcy court as a unit of the district court.
Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases involving personal, business, or farm bankruptcy. This means a bankruptcy case cannot be filed in state court. Bankruptcy Appellate Panels (BAPs) are 3-judge panels authorized to hear appeals of bankruptcy court decisions. These panels are a unit of the federal courts of appeals, and must be established by that circuit. Five circuits have established panels: First Circuit, Sixth Circuit, Eighth Circuit, Ninth Circuit, and Tenth Circuit.
Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company v. Sawyer (1952)
Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company Facts:
The United States was involved in the Korean War in 1950, when President Truman chose not to impose price controls, as the federal government had done during World War II. Instead, the administration attempted to avoid inflationary pressures by the creation of a Wage Stabilization Board that sought to keep down the inflation of consumer prices and wages while it avoided labor disputes whenever possible. Those efforts failed to avoid a threatened strike against all major steel producers by the United Steel Workers of America when the steel industry rejected the board’s proposed wage increases unless they were allowed greater price increases than the government was prepared to approve.
The Truman administration believed a strike of any length would cause severe dislocations for defense contractors and the domestic economy as a whole. Unable to mediate the differences between the union and the industry, Truman decided to seize production facilities while he kept the current operating management of the companies in place to run the plants under federal direction.
Rather than seizing the plants, Truman might have invoked the national emergency provisions of the Taft–Hartley Act to prevent the union from striking. The administration rejected that option, however, both from a distaste for the Act, which had been passed over Truman’s own veto five years earlier and because the administration saw the industry, rather than the union, as the cause of the crisis.
The administration also rejected use of the statutory procedure provided under Section 18 of the Selective Service Act, which might have permitted seizure of the industry’s steel plants on the ground that compliance with the procedure was too time-consuming and that its outcome too uncertain. Truman chose not to go to Congress to obtain additional statutory authorization for a seizure of the steel industry for the same reasons. That left invocation of the President’s inherent authority to act in response to a national emergency.
The steelworkers favored government seizure of the plants under any available theory to a Taft–Hartley injunction against it; Arthur Goldberg, General Counsel for the Steelworkers and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), argued that the President had the inherent power to seize the plants as well as the statutory authority under the Selective Service Act and the Defense Production Act.
The steel industry, on the other hand, appears to have been taken by surprise, as it had apparently assumed, until shortly before Truman made his April 8, 1952 announcement, that he would take the less risky step of seeking a national emergency injunction under the Taft–Hartley Act instead. However, the industry was, as events showed, ready to act once Truman had announced the seizure by a national television and radio broadcast.
The steel companies reacted immediately by sending attorneys to the home of Judge Walter Bastian of the D.C. District Court within 30 minutes of the end of the President’s speech to ask for the issuance of a temporary restraining order. The District Court rejected that motion, but granted a preliminary injunction. The government was granted a stay in the D.C. Circuit conditioned on a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court which the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company also filed.
Q: Did the President have the constitutional authority to seize and operate the steel mills?
A: The president lacks constitutional authority to seize and operate the steel mills.
Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company Conclusion
6-3 decision holding the President did not have the inherent authority to seize private property in the absence of either specifically enumerated authority under Article Two of the Constitution or statutory authority conferred on him by Congress. The President’s military power as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces did not extend to labor disputes:
The President’s power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Frankfurter avoided the sweeping condemnation of the administration’s claims offered by Justices Black and Douglas. While he would not rule out the possibility that the President might acquire the power to take certain actions by a long course of conduct that was unobjected to by Congress, he found the statutory history persuasive evidence that Congress had not acquiesced, much less authorized, seizure of private property in the absence of a formal declaration of war.
Justice jackson’s opinion took a similarly flexible approach to the issue by eschewing any fixed boundaries between the powers of Congress and the President. He divided Presidential authority towards Congress into three categories (in descending order of legitimacy):
- Cases in which the President was acting with express or implied authority from Congress
- Cases in which Congress had thus far been silent, referred to as a “zone of twilight”
- Cases in which the President was defying congressional orders (the “third category”)
Jackson’s framework would influence future Supreme Court cases on the president’s powers and the relation between Congress and the presidency.
The case served as a check on the most far-reaching claims of executive power at the time and signaled the Court’s increased willingness to intervene in political questions. Within minutes of the Court’s ruling, Truman ordered Commerce Secretary Charles Sawyer to return the steel mills to their owners; he did so immediately. The Steelworkers went out on strike again shortly thereafter. The strike lasted for more than 50 days until the President threatened to use the somewhat-cumbersome procedures under the Selective Service Act to seize the mills.
The Court would later intervene in political questions in Baker v. Carr (1962) and Powell v. McCormack (1969). It also applied the Frankfurter-Jackson approach to analyzing Congress’ legislative authorization of Presidential action in invalidating efforts by the Nixon administration to plant wiretaps without prior judicial approval, and it cited the case more generally in support of its decision to permit litigation against the president to proceed in Clinton v. Jones (1997). The Supreme Court also relied on Youngstown in Medellín v. Texas, (2008) in which President George W. Bush had pressured the state of Texas to review the murder conviction of a Mexican citizen who had tortured and raped two teenage girls in 1993 by arguing that a 2004 decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) required law enforcement authorities to tell the accused of his right under the Vienna Convention to notify Mexican diplomats of his detention. In a 6–3 decision, the Court held that ICJ rulings were not enforceable in the United States and that Bush’s actions were unconstitutional.
However, the Court drew back from some of the implications of its decision by refusing to rely on Youngstown as authority to review the failed challenges brought against the War in Vietnam and deferring to the executive branch’s authority over foreign policy. The Supreme Court also cited Youngstown in the 2006 decision Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.
Next Case: Rochin v. California (1952)
Previous Case: Dennis v. U.S. (1951)