In a landmark restriction on presidential power, the Supreme Court in 1952 held invalid President HARRY S. TRUMAN'S seizure of the steel mills. Justice HUGO L. BLACK, joined by five other Justices, delivered the opinion of the Court. Chief Justice FRED M. VINSON, dissenting with Justices STANLEY F. REED and SHERMAN MINTON, believed that military and economic emergencies justified Truman's action.
Each of the five concurring Justices wrote separate opinions, advancing different views of the President's emergency power. Only Justices Black and WILLIAM O. DOUGLAS insisted on specific constitutional or statutory authority to support presidential seizure of private property. Assigning the lawmaking function exclusively to Congress, they allowed the President a role only in recommending or vetoing laws. On existing precedent, this concept of the SEPARATION OF POWERS doctrine was far too rigid. Previous Presidents had engaged directly in the lawmaking function without express constitutional or statutory authority, often with the acquiescence and even blessing of Congress and the courts.
The other four concurring Justices (FELIX FRANKFURTER, ROBERT H. JACKSON, HAROLD BURTON, and TOM C. CLARK) did not draw such a strict line between the executive and legislative branches, nor did they try to delimit the President's authority to act in future emergencies. Frankfurter thought it inadvisable to attempt a comprehensive definition of presidential power, based on abstract principles, without admitting powers that had evolved by custom: a "systematic, unbroken, executive practice, long pursued to the knowledge of the Congress and never before questioned ? may be treated as a gloss on "executive Power." Burton withheld opinion on the President's constitutional power when facing an "imminent invasion or threatened attack," while Clark agreed that the Constitution gave the President extensive authority in time of grave and imperative national emergency.
Jackson identified three categories of presidential power, ranging from actions based on express or implied congressional authorization (putting executive authority at its maximum) to executive measures that were incompatible with congressional policy (reducing presidential power to its lowest ebb). In between lay a "zone of twilight" in which President and Congress shared authority. Jackson said that congressional inertia, indifference, or acquiescence might enable, if not...