Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company v. Sawyer (343 U.S. 579)/Concurrence Douglas

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United States Supreme Court

343 U.S. 579

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company  v.  Sawyer

 Argued: May 12 and May 13, 1952. --- Decided: June 2, 1952

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring.

There can be no doubt that the emergency which caused the President to seize these steel plants was one that bore heavily on the country. But the emergency did not create power; it merely marked an occasion when power should be exercised. And the fact that it was necessary that measures be taken to keep steel in production does not mean that the President, rather than the Congress, had the constitutional authority to act. The Congress, as well as the President, is trustee of the national welfare. The President can act more quickly than the Congress. The President with the armed services at his disposal can move with force as well as with speed. All executive power-from the reign of ancient kings to the rule of modern dictators-has the outward appearance of efficiency.

Legislative power, by contrast, is slower to exercise. There must be delay while the ponderous machinery of committees, hearings, and debates is put into motion. That takes time; and while the Congress slowly moves into action, the emergency may take its toll in wages, consumer goods, war production, the standard of living of the people, and perhaps even lives. Legislative action may indeed often be cumbersome, time-consuming, and apparently inefficient. But as Mr. Justice Brandeis stated in his dissent in Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 293, 47 S.Ct. 21, 85, 71 L.Ed. 160:

'The doctrine of the separation of powers was adopted by the Convention of 1787 not to promote efficiency but to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power. The purpose was not to avoid friction, but, by means of the inevitable friction incident to the distribution of the governmental powers among three departments, to save the people from autocracy.' We therefore cannot decide this case by determining which branch of government can deal most expeditiously with the present crisis. The answer must depend on the allocation of powers under the Constitution. That in turn requires an analysis of the conditions giving rise to the seizure and of the seizure itself.

The relations between labor and industry are one of the crucial problems of the era. Their solution will doubtless entail many methods-education of labor leaders and business executives; the encouragement of mediation and conciliation by the President and the use of his great office in the cause of industrial peace; and the passage of laws. Laws entail sanctions-penalties for their violation. One type of sanction is find and imprisonment. Another is seizure of property. An industry may become so lawless, so irresponsible as to endanger the whole economy. Seizure of the industry may be the only wise and practical solution.

The method by which industrial peace is achieved is of vital importance not only to the parties but to society as well. A determination that sanctions should be applied, that the hand of the law should be placed upon the parties, and that the force of the courts should be directed against them, is an exercise of legislative power. In some nations that power is entrusted to the executive branch as a matter of course or in case of emergencies. We chose another course. We chose to place the legislative power of the Federal Government in the Congress. The language of the Constitution is not ambiguous or qualified. It places not some legislative power in the Congress; Article I, Section 1 says 'All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.'

The legislative nature of the action taken by the President seems to me to be clear. When the United States takes over an industrial plant to settle a labor controversy, it is condemning property. The seizure of the plant is a taking in the constitutional sense. United States v. Pewee Coal Co., 341 U.S. 114, 71 S.Ct. 670, 95 L.Ed. 809. A permanent taking would amount to the nationalization of the industry. A temporary taking falls short of that goal. But though the seizure is only for a week or a month, the condemnation is complete and the United States must pay compensation for the temporary possession. United States v. General Motors Corp., 323 U.S. 373, 65 S.Ct. 357, 89 L.Ed. 311; United States v. Pewee Coal Co., supra.

The power of the Federal Government to condemn property is well established. Kohl v. United States, 91 U.S. 367, 23 L.Ed. 449. It can condemn for any public purpose; and I have no doubt but that condemnation of a plant, factory, or industry in order to promote industrial peace would be constitutional. But there is a duty to pay for all property taken by the Government. The command of the Fifth Amendment is that no 'private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. That constitutional requirement has an important bearing on the present case.

The President has no power to raise reveunes. That power is in the Congress by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. The President might seize and the Congress by subsequent action might ratify the seizure. [1] But until and unless Congress acted, no condemnation would be lawful. The branch of government that has the power to pay compensation for a seizure is the only one able to authorize a seizure or make lawful one that the President had effected. [2] That seems to me to be the necessary result of the condemnation provision in the Fifth Amendment. It squares with the theory of checks and balances expounded by Mr. Justice BLACK in the opinion of the Court in which I Join.

If we sanctioned the present exercise of power by the President, we would be expanding Article II of the Constitution and rewriting it to suit the political conveniences of the present emergency. Article II which vests the 'executive Power' in the President defines that power with particularity. Article II, Section 2 makes the Chief Executive the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy. But our history and tradition rebel at the thought that the grant of military power carries with it authority over civilian affairs. Article II, Section 3 provides that the President shall 'from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.' The power to recommend legislation, granted to the President, serves only to emphasize that it is his function to recommend and that it is the function of the Congress to legislate. Article II, Section 3, also provides that the President 'shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.' But as Mr. Justice BLACK and Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER point out the power to execute the laws starts and ends with the laws Congress has enacted.

The great office of President is not a weak and powerless one. The President represents the people and is their spokesman in domestic and foreign affairs. The office is respected more than any other in the land. It gives a position of leadership that is unique. The power to formulate policies and mould opinion inheres in the Presidency and conditions our national life. The impact of the man and the philosophy he represents may at times be thwarted by the Congress. Stalemates may occur when emergencies mount and the Nation suffers for lack of harmonious, reciprocal action between the White House and Capitol Hill. That is a risk inherent in our system of separation of powers. The tragedy of such stalemates might be avoided by allowing the President the use of some legislative authority. The Framers with memories of the tyrannies produced by a blending of executive and legislative power rejected that political arrangement. Some future generation may, however, deem it so urgent that the President have legislative authority that the Constitution will be amended. We could not sanction the seizures and condemnations of the steel plants in this case without reading Article II as giving the President not only the power to execute the laws but to make some. Such a step would most assuredly alter the pattern of the Constitution.

We pay a price for our system of checks and balances, for the distribution of power among the three branches of government. It is a price that today may seem exorbitant to many. Today a kindly President uses the seizure power to effect a wage increase and to keep the steel furnaces in production. Yet tomorrow another President might use the same power to prevent a wage increase, to curb trade unionists, to regiment labor as oppressively as industry thinks it has been regimented by this seizure.


^1  What a President may do as a matter of expediency or extremity may never reach a definitive consitutional decision. For example, President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, claiming the constitutional right to do so. See Ex part Merryman, 17 Fed.Cas.No.9,487. Congress ratified his action by the Act of March 3, 1863. 12 Stat. 755.

^2  Mr. Justice Brandeis, speaking for the Court in United States v. North American Transportation & Trading Co., 253 U.S. 330, 333, 40 S.Ct. 518, 520, 64 L.Ed. 935, stated that the basis of the Government's liability for a taking of property was legislative authority, 'In order that the Government shall be liable to must appear that the officer who has physically taken possession of the property was duly authorized so to do, either directly by Congress or by the official upon whom Congress conferred the power.'

That theory explains cases like United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256, 66 S.Ct. 1062, 90 L.Ed. 1206, where the acts of the officials resulting in a taking were acts authorized by the Congress, though the Congress had not treated the acts us one of appropriation of private property.

War-time seizures by the military in connection with military operations, cf. United States v. Russell, 13 Wall. 623, 20 L.Ed. 474, are also in a different category.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).