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Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Labor Act in 1947, which spelled out the negotiation tools available to labor unions during collective-bargaining disputes. President Truman vetoed the act, but Congress overrode the veto.
This set the stage for Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer.
In the 1950s, steel mill owners and employees could not come to terms regarding their collective-bargaining agreements, despite the assistance of federal mediators. President Truman feared a strike would damage national defense at a time when the United States was involved in the Korean War.
To stop that from happening, President Truman issued an executive order seizing the nation’s steel mills. The mill owners sued in federal court, arguing that the president had usurped Congress’s legislative function. The U.S. Supreme Court granted cert to consider whether the president had exceeded his authority.
Justice Black wrote the majority opinion, which concluded that the President had acted outside the scope of his powers, as he had not been authorized to seize the mills by the Constitution or an act of Congress. That said, this case is studied today as much for Justice Jackson’s famous concurrence, in which he laid out his taxonomy of presidential authority, as it is for the Court’s ultimate ruling.