During the Korean War, the Supreme Court disallowed the president’s right to invoke emergency powers in order to seize and operate private businesses without prior congressional approval.
Fearful that a long strike would damage the war effort, President Harry S Truman issued an executive order instructing the secretary of commerce to take over the steel plants and maintain full production. Although there was no statutory authority for the seizure, the president argued that the policy was valid under his inherent powers as president and commander in chief. The steel companies argued that the seizure was unconstitutional unless authorized by an act of Congress. They emphasized that Congress, in passing the Taft-Hartley Act (1947), had considered but rejected an amendment permitting the president to seize industrial facilities in order to resolve labor disputes.
By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the companies. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo L. Black
The steel seizure case did not represent a complete repudiation of the theory of inherent presidential powers. The decision did make it clear, however, that the president is not invested with unbridled discretion in the name of national security. When examining the limits of executive actions, moreover, the Court indicated that it would consider both the explicit and the implicit will of Congress.
Foreign affairs and foreign policy
Wartime seizure power