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8. Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company v. Sawyer (1952)
In April 1952 the United Steelworkers of America gave notice of an impending national strike. Among those opposed to this labor stoppage was President Harry Truman, who wanted the country’s steel mills humming in order to best support American military involvement in the Korean War. Invoking his “inherent power” as commander in chief, Truman issued Executive Order 10340, commanding Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer to nationalize the privately-owned steel mills and operate them on behalf of the federal government.
The steel industry charged the president with exceeding his constitutional role and overriding the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, which did not include a seizure provision for such cases. The Supreme Court agreed. “The Founders of this Nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone in both good and bad times,” wrote Justice Hugo Black in Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company v. Sawyer. “It would do no good to recall the historical events, the fears of power, and the hopes for freedom that lay behind their choice. Such a review would but confirm our holding that this seizure order cannot stand.” In addition to stopping Truman’s executive overreach, Youngstown later served as an important precedent when the Supreme Court sought to limit President George W. Bush’s wartime excesses.
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