• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court declared that the federal government possesses broad and inherent powers to deal with other countries and that the president exercises primacy in formulating and conducting foreign policy.

In 1934 Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing the president to prohibit the sale of arms to the warring nations of Bolivia and Paraguay. Congress also provided criminal penalties for violators. President Franklin D. Roosevelt quickly proclaimed an embargo. After the Curtiss-Wright Export Corporation was indicted for disobeying the embargo, it asserted that the congressional resolution was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power to the president.[case]Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., United States v.[Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., United States v.]Presidential powers;Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., United States v.[Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., United States v.]Foreign affairs and foreign policy;Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., United States v.[Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., United States v.]

By a 7-1 margin, the Supreme Court found nothing unconstitutional about the government’s arrangement. Justice George SutherlandSutherland, George;Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., United States v.[Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., United States v.] distinguished between two kinds of legislation, domestic and foreign, and held that the rule against delegation of duties applied only to the former. He theorized that the powers in foreign affairs derived less from the Constitution than from the inherent attributes of a sovereign country. In the international field, moreover, the president has primacy, and Congress “must often accord to the President a degree of discretion and freedom from statutory restriction which would not be admissible were domestic affairs alone involved.”

There has been much controversy concerning Curtiss-Wright’s expansive views of inherent presidential powers in foreign affairs. The decision was cited by opponents of the War Powers ActWar Powers Act of 1973 of 1973 and by supporters of executive discretion in the Iran-Contra affair. Probably a majority of legal scholars believe that Sutherland’s statements about presidential powers are inconsistent with constitutional principles of separation of powers. In Regan v. Wald[case]Regan v. Wald[Regan v. Wald] (1984), the Court recognized that the conduct of foreign affairs is under the domain of both the legislative and executive branches.

Delegation of powers

Foreign affairs and foreign policy

National security

Presidential powers

Rules of the Court

War powers

War Powers Act of 1973

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