United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. 1936

Author:Daniel Brannen, Richard Hanes, Elizabeth Shaw

Page 911

Appellant: United States

Appellee: Curtis-Wright Export Corporation

Appellant's Claim: That the president has constitutional authority to prohibit arms sales to foreign nations at war.

Chief Lawyers for Appellant: Homer S. Cummings, U.S. Attorney General; Martin Conboy

Chief Lawyer for Appellee: William Wallace

Justices for the Court: Louis D. Brandeis, Pierce Butler, Benjamin N. Cardozo, Chief Justice Charles E. Hughes, Owen J. Roberts, George Sutherland, Willis Van Devanter

Justices Dissenting: James Clark McReynolds (Harlan Fiske Stone did not participate)

Date of Decision: December 21, 1936

Decision: Ruled in favor of the United States by finding that the president holds unwritten powers to conduct foreign policy.

Significance: By broadly describing executive power in foreign affairs, the Court provided a justification for the president to act in foreign affairs without requiring congressional approval. The ruling laid the groundwork for the exercise of future presidential authority in decisions concerning U.S. activity in foreign countries.

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In keeping with the principle of separating power between the branches of the government, in 1787 the Framers of the U.S. Constitution assigned some foreign affairs powers to Congress and some to the president. However, much was left undefined, particularly responsibilities during peacetime. Congress can regulate international commerce (trade), declare war, and approve treaties signed by the president. The president is commander-in-chief of the military, appoints ambassadors to foreign nations, and negotiates foreign treaties. The role of the states and the courts in foreign affairs is fairly limited.

Through the nineteenth century, the United States was not a world power and foreign affairs not a primary concern. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century the United States began to emerge as a world power with the president often playing the main role in shaping and carrying out U.S. foreign policy. Congress began regularly assuming a lesser role in developing policy, instead primarily reacting to actions taken by the president such as, providing funds for presidential initiatives (programs) or approving treaties.

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