This Day in Legal History: April 9th

On April 9th, 1952, President Harry Truman made a momentous decision. In the preceding weeks, steel workers across the country had been threatening to go on strike, despite the desperate need for steel created by the Korean War. President Truman, worried that mill-owners would use the strike as leverage to hike their prices, ordered that the government take over the mills before the strike could wreak havoc.

Many of his contemporaries were opposed to this show of presidential authority. In response, Truman invoked Article II of the Constitution, claiming that as Commander in Chief he had a duty to “avert a war-time emergency.” But, the U.S. Supreme Court did not agree.

Truman’s steel-mill seizure was ruled unconstitutional in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (Fastcase users click for case); in a split decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Truman needed legislative authorization to seize private property, and Truman promptly returned the mills to their private owners. It was a landmark decision that many look to today; some contend that the expansion of presidential powers in the fight against terrorism closely mirrors Truman’s actions on this day, April 9th, 1952.

Click here to listen to Truman’s radio address about the steel crisis.

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