He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extra...
Legislative Role of the President
The clause directing the President to report to the Congress on the state of the union imposes a duty rather than confers a power, and is the formal basis of the President's legislative leadership. The President's legislative role has attained great proportions since 1900. This development, however, represents the play of political and social forces rather than any pronounced change in constitutional interpretation. Especially is it the result of the rise of parties and the accompanying recognition of the President as party leader, of the appearance of the National Nominating Convention and the Party Platform, and of the introduction of the Spoils System, an ever present help to Presidents in times of troubled relations with Congress.
The Conduct of Foreign Relations
The Right of Reception: Scope of the Power
"Ambassadors and other public ministers" embraces not only "all possible diplomatic agents which any foreign power may accredit to the United States,"
The Presidential Monopoly
Wrote Jefferson in 1790: "The transaction of business with foreign nations is executive altogether. It belongs, then, to the head of that department, except as to such portions of it as are specially submitted to the Senate. Exceptions are to be construed strictly."
The Logan Act.-When in 1798 a Philadelphia Quaker named Logan went to Paris on his own to undertake a negotiation with the French Government with a view to averting war between France and the United States, his enterprise stimulated Congress to pass "An Act to Prevent Usurpation of Executive Functions,"
A Formal or a Formative Power.-In his attack, instigated by Jefferson, upon Washington's Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793 at the outbreak of war between France and Great Britain, Madison advanced the argument that all large questions of foreign policy fell within the ambit of Congress, by virtue of its power "to declare war," and in support of this proposition he disparaged the presidential function of reception: "I shall not undertake to examine, what would be the precise extent and effect of this function in various cases which fancy may suggest, or which time may produce. It will be more proper to observe, in general, and every candid reader will second the observation, that little, if anything, more was intended by the clause, than to provide for a particular mode of communication, almost grown into a right among modern nations; by pointing out the department of the government, most proper for the ceremony of admitting public ministers, of examining their credentials, and of authenticating their title to the privileges annexed to their character by the law of nations. This being the apparent design of the constitution, it would be highly improper to magnify the function into an important prerogative, even when no rights of other departments could be affected by it."
The President's Diplomatic Role.-Hamilton, although he had expressed substantially the same view in The Federalist regarding the power of reception,
Jefferson's Real Position.-Nor did Jefferson himself officially support Madison's point of view, as the following extract from his "minutes of a Conversation," which took place July 10, 1793, between himself and Citizen Genet, show: "He asked if they [Congress] were not the sovereign. I told him no, they were sovereign in making laws only, the executive was sovereign in executing them, and the judiciary in construing them where they related to their department. 'But,' said he, 'at least, Congress are bound to see that the treaties are observed.' I told him no; there were very few cases indeed arising out of treaties, which they could take notice of; that the President is to see that treaties are observed. 'If he decides against the treaty, to whom is a nation to appeal?' I told him the Constitution had made the President the last appeal. He made me a bow, and said, that indeed he would not make me his compliments on such a Constitution, expressed the utmost astonishment at it, and seemed never before to have had such an idea."
The Power of Recognition
In his endeavor in 1793 to minimize the importance of the President's power of reception, Madison denied that it involved cognizance of the question, whether those exercising the government of the accrediting State had the right along with the possession. He said: "This belongs to the nation, and to the nation alone, on whom the government operates.... It is evident, therefore, that if the executive has a right to reject a public minister, it must be founded on some other consideration than a change in the government, or the newness of the government; and consequently a right to refuse to acknowledge a new government cannot be implied by the right to refuse a public minister. It is not denied that there may be cases in which a respect to the general principles of liberty, the essential rights of the people, or the overruling sentiments of humanity, might require a government, whether new or old, to be treated as an illegitimate despotism. Such are in fact discussed and admitted by the most approved authorities. But they are great and extraordinary cases, by no means submitted to so limited an organ of the national will as the executive of the United States; and certainly not to be brought by any torture of words, within the right to receive ambassadors."
Hamilton, with the case of Genet before him, had taken the contrary position, which history has ratified. In consequence of his power to receive and dispatch diplomatic agents, but more especially the former, the President possesses the power to recognize new states, communities claiming the status of belligerency, and changes of government in established states; also, by the same token, the power to decline recognition, and thereby decline diplomatic relations with such new states or governments. The affirmative precedents down to 1906 are succinctly summarized by John Bassett Moore in his famous Digest, as follows: "In the preceding review of the recognition, respectively, of the new states, new governments, and belligerency, there has been made in each case a precise statement of facts, showing how and by whom the recognition was accorded. In every case, as it appears, of a new government and of belligerency, the question of recognition was determined solely by the Executive. In the case of the Spanish-American republics, of Texas, of Hayti, and of Liberia, the President, before recognizing the new state, invoked the judgment and cooperation of Congress; and in each of these cases provision was made for the appointment of a minister, which, when made in due form, constitutes, as has been seen, according to the rules of international law, a formal recognition. In numerous other cases, the recognition was given by the Executive solely on his own responsibility."
The Case of Cuba.-The question of Congress' right also to recognize new states was prominently raised in connection with Cuba's successful struggle for independence. Beset by numerous legislative proposals of a more or less mandatory character, urging recognition upon the President, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in 1897, made an elaborate investigation of the whole subject and came to the following conclusions as to this power: "The 'recognition' of independence or belligerency of a foreign power, technically speaking, is distinctly a diplomatic matter. It is properly evidenced either by sending a public minister to the Government thus recognized, or by receiving a public minister therefrom. The latter is the usual and proper course. Diplomatic relations with a new power are properly, and customarily inaugurated at the request of that power, expressed through an envoy sent for the purpose. The reception of this envoy, as pointed out, is the act of the President alone. The next step, that of sending a public minister to the nation thus recognized, is primarily the act of the President. The Senate can take no part in it at all, until the President has sent in a nomination. Then it acts in its executive capacity, and, customarily, in 'executive session.' The legislative branch of the Government can exercise no influence over this step except, very indirectly, by withholding appropriations.... Nor can the legislative branch of the Government hold any communications with foreign nations. The executive branch is the sole mouthpiece of the nation in communication with foreign sovereignties."
"Foreign nations communicate only through their respective executive departments. Resolutions of their legislative departments upon diplomatic matters have no status in international law. In the department of international law, therefore, properly speaking, a Congressional recognition of belligerency or independence would be a nullity.... Congress can help the Cuban insurgents by legislation in many ways, but it cannot help them legitimately by mere declarations, or by attempts to engage in diplomatic negotiations, if our interpretation of the Constitution is correct. That it is correct ... [is] shown by the opinions of jurists and statesmen of the past."
The Power of Nonrecognition.-The potentialities of non-recognition were conspicuously illustrated by President Woodrow Wilson when he refused, early in 1913, to recognize Provisional President Huerta as the de facto government of Mexico, thereby contributing materially to Huerta's downfall the year following. At the same time, Wilson announced a general policy of nonrecognition in the case of any government founded on acts of violence, and while he observed this rule with considerable discretion, he consistently refused to recognize the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and his successors prior to President Franklin D. Roosevelt did the same. The refusal of the Hoover administration to recognize the independence of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo early in 1932 was based on kindred grounds. Similarly, the nonrecognition of the Chinese Communist Government from the Truman Administration to President Nixon's de facto recognition through a visit in 1972-not long after the People's Republic of China was admitted to the United Nations and Taiwan excluded-proved to be an important part of American foreign policy during the Cold War.
Congressional Implementation of Presidential Policies
No President was ever more jealous of his prerogative in the realm of foreign relations than Woodrow Wilson. When, however, strong pressure was brought to bear upon him by Great Britain respecting his Mexican Policy, he was constrained to go before Congress and ask for a modification of the Panama Tolls Act of 1911, which had also aroused British ire. Addressing Congress, he said, "I ask this of you in support of the foreign policy of the Administration. I shall not know how to deal with other matters of even greater delicacy and nearer consequence if you do not grant it to me in ungrudging measure."
The fact is, of course, that Congress has enormous powers, the support of which is indispensable to any foreign policy. In the long run, Congress is the body that lays and collects taxes for the common defense, that creates armies and maintains navies, although it does not direct them, that pledges the public credit, that declares war, that defines offenses against the law of nations, that regulates foreign commerce; and it has the further power "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper"-that is, which it deems to be such- for carrying into execution not only its own powers but all the powers "of the government of the United States and of any department or officer thereof." Moreover, its laws made "in pursuance" of these powers are "supreme law of the land," and the President is bound constitutionally to "take care that" they "be faithfully executed." In point of fact, congressional legislation has operated to augment presidential powers in the foreign field much more frequently than it has to curtail them. The Lend-Lease Act of March 11, 1941
The Doctrine of Political Questions
It is not within the province of the courts to inquire into the policy underlying action taken by the "political departments"-Congress and the President-in the exercise of their conceded powers. This commonplace maxim is, however, sometimes given an enlarged application, so as to embrace questions as to the existence of facts and even questions of law, which the Court would normally regard as falling within its jurisdiction. Such questions are termed "political questions," and are especially common in the field of foreign relations. The leading case is Foster v. Neilson,
Chief Justice Marshall's opinion of the Court held that the Court was bound by the action of the political departments, the President and Congress, in claiming the land for the United States. He said: "If those departments which are intrusted with the foreign intercourse of the nation, which assert and maintain its interests against foreign powers, have unequivocally asserted its right of dominion over a country of which it is in possession, and which it claims under a treaty; if the legislature has acted on the construction thus asserted, it is not in its own courts that this construction is to be denied. A question like this, respecting the boundaries of nations, is, as has been truly said, more a political than a legal question, and in its discussion, the courts of every country must respect the pronounced will of the legislature."
"If this were not the rule, cases might often arise, in which, on most important questions of foreign jurisdiction, there would be an irreconcilable difference between the executive and judicial departments. By one of these departments, a foreign island or country might be considered as at peace with the United States; whilst the other would consider it in a state of war. No well-regulated government has ever sanctioned a principle so unwise, and so destructive of national character."
Recent Statements of the Doctrine.-The assumption underlying the refusal of courts to intervene in such cases is well stated in the case of Chicago & S. Airlines v. Waterman S.S. Corp.
To the same effect are the Court's holding and opinion in Ludecke v. Watkins,
A Court review of the political question doctrine is found in Baker v. Carr.
The President as Law Enforcer
Powers Derived From This Duty
The Constitution does not say that the President shall execute the laws, but that "he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed," i.e., by others, who are commonly, but not always with strict accuracy, termed his subordinates. What powers are implied from this duty? In this connection, five categories of executive power should be distinguished: first, there is that executive power which the Constitution confers directly upon the President by the opening clause of article II and, in more specific terms, by succeeding clauses of the same article; secondly, there is the sum total of the powers which acts of Congress at any particular time confer upon the President; thirdly, there is the sum total of discretionary powers which acts of Congress at any particular time confer upon heads of departments and other executive ("administrative") agencies of the National Government; fourthly, there is the power which stems from the duty to enforce the criminal statutes of the United States; finally, there are so-called "ministerial duties" which admit of no discretion as to the occasion or the manner of their discharge. Three principal questions arise: first, how does the President exercise the powers which the Constitution or the statutes confer upon him; second, in what relation does he stand by virtue of the "take care" clause to the powers of other executive or administrative agencies; third, in what relation does he stand to the enforcement of the criminal laws of the United States?
Whereas the British monarch is constitutionally under the necessity of acting always through agents if his acts are to receive legal recognition, the President is presumed to exercise certain of his constitutional powers personally. In the words of an opinion by Attorney General Cushing in 1855: "It may be presumed that he, the man discharging the presidential office, and he alone, grants reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States.... So he, and he alone, is the supreme commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several States when called into the actual service of the United States. That is a power constitutionally inherent in the person of the President. No act of Congress, no act even of the President himself, can, by constitutional possibility, authorize or create any military officer not subordinate to the President."
The general rule, as stated by the Court, is that when any duty is cast by law upon the President, it may be exercised by him through the head of the appropriate department, whose acts, if performed within the law, thus become the President's acts.
Impoundment of Appropriated Funds
In his Third Annual Message to Congress, President Jefferson established the first faint outline of what years later became a major controversy. Reporting that $50,000 in funds which Congress had appropriated for fifteen gunboats on the Mississippi remained unexpended, the President stated that a "favorable and peaceful turn of affairs on the Mississippi rendered an immediate execution of the law unnecessary... ." But he was not refusing to expend the money, only delaying action to obtain improved gunboats; a year later, he told Congress that the money was being spent and gun-boats were being obtained.
On the other hand, it was argued that Congress' powers under Article I, § 8, were fully adequate to support its decision to authorize certain programs, to determine the amount of funds to be spent on them, and to mandate the Executive to execute the laws. Permitting the President to impound appropriated funds allowed him the power of item veto, which he does not have, and denied Congress the opportunity to override his veto of bills enacted by Congress. In particular, the power of Congress to compel the President to spend appropriated moneys was said to derive from Congress' power "to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution" the enumerated powers of Congress and "all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or officer thereof."
The President's decision to impound large amounts of appropriated funds led to two approaches to curtail the power. First, many persons and organizations, with a reasonable expectation of receipt of the impounded funds upon their release, brought large numbers of suits; with a few exceptions, these suits resulted in decisions denying the President either constitutional or statutory power to decline to spend or obligate funds, and the Supreme Court, presented with only statutory arguments by the Administration, held that no discretion existed under the particular statute to withhold allotments of funds to the States.
Generally speaking, the law recognized two types of impoundments: "routine" or "programmatic" reservations of budget authority to provide for the inevitable contingencies that arise in administering congressionally-funded programs and "policy" decisions that are ordinarily intended to advance the broader fiscal or other policy objectives of the executive branch contrary to congressional wishes in appropriating funds in the first place.
Routine reservations were to come under the terms of a revised Anti-Deficiency Act.
"Policy" impoundments were to be reported to Congress by the President as permanent rescissions and, perhaps, as temporary deferrals.
With passage of the Act, the constitutional issues faded into the background; Presidents regularly reported rescission proposals, and Congress responded by enacting its own rescissions, usually topping the Presidents'. The entire field was, of course, confounded by the application of the other part of the 1974 law, the Budget Act, which restructured how budgets were received and acted on in Congress, and by the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.
Power and Duty of the President in Relation to Subordinate Executive Officers
If the law casts a duty upon a head of department eo nomine, does the President thereupon become entitled by virtue of his duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," to substitute his own judgment for that of the principal officer regarding the discharge of such duty? In the debate in the House in 1789 on the location of the removal power, Madison argued that it ought to be attributed to the President alone because it was "the intention of the Constitution, expressed especially in the faithful execution clause, that the first magistrate should be responsible for the executive department," and this responsibility, he held, carried with it the power to "inspect and control" the conduct of subordinate executive officers. "Vest," said he, "the power [of removal] in the Senate jointly with the President, and you abolish at once the great principle of unity and responsibility in the executive department, which was intended for the security of liberty and the public good."
But this was said with respect to the office of the Secretary of State, and when shortly afterward the question arose as to the power of Congress to regulate the tenure of the Comptroller of the Treasury, Madison assumed a very different attitude, conceding in effect that this office was to be an arm of certain of Congress' own powers and should therefore be protected against the removal power.
Administrative Decentralization Versus Jacksonian Centralism.-An opinion rendered by Attorney General Wirt in 1823 asserted the proposition that the President's duty under the "take care" clause required of him scarcely more than that he should bring a criminally negligent official to book for his derelictions, either by removing him or by setting in motion against him the processes of impeachment or of criminal prosecutions.
Congressional Power Versus Presidential Duty to the Law.-The Court's 1838 decision in Kendall v. United States ex rel. Stokes,
The Court rejected the implication with emphasis. There are, it pointed out, "certain political duties imposed upon many officers in the executive department, the discharge of which is under the direction of the President. But it would be an alarming doctrine, that Congress cannot impose upon any executive officer any duty they may think proper, which is not repugnant to any rights secured and protected by the Constitution; and in such cases the duty and responsibility grow out of and are subject to the control of the law, and not to the direction of the President. And this is emphatically the case, where the duty enjoined is of a mere ministerial character."
Myers Versus Morrison.-How does this issue stand today? The answer to this question, so far as there is one, is to be sought in a comparison of the Court's decision in the Myers case, on the one hand, and its decision in the Morrison case, on the other.
The "bright-line" rule previously observed no longer holds. Now, Congress has a great deal more leeway in regulating executive officials, but it must articulate its reasons carefully and observe the fuzzy lines set by the Court.
Power of the President to Guide Enforcement of the Penal Law.-This matter also came to a head in "the reign of Andrew Jackson," preceding, and indeed foreshadowing, the Duane episode by some months. "At that epoch," Wyman relates in his Principles of Administrative Law, "the first amendment of the doctrine of centralism in its entirety was set forth in an obscure opinion upon an unimportant matter-The Jewels of the Princess of Orange, 2 Opin. 482 (1831). These jewels . . . were stolen from the Princess by one Polari and were seized by the officers of the United States Customs in the hands of the thief. Representations were made to the President of the United States by the Minister of the Netherlands of the facts in the matter, which were followed by a request for return of the jewels. In the meantime the District Attorney was prosecuting condemnation proceedings in behalf of the United States which he showed no disposition to abandon. The President felt himself in a dilemma, whether if it was by statute the duty of the District Attorney to prosecute or not, the President could interfere and direct whether to proceed or not. The opinion was written by Taney, then Attorney General; it is full of pertinent illustrations as to the necessity in an administration of full power in the chief executive as the concomitant of his full responsibility. It concludes: If it should be said that, the District Attorney having the power to discontinue the prosecution, there is no necessity for inferring a right in the President to direct him to exercise it-I answer that the direction of the President is not required to communicate any new authority to the District Attorney, but to direct him in the execution of a power he is admitted to possess. The most valuable and proper measure may often be for the President to order the District Attorney to discontinue prosecution. The District Attorney might refuse to obey the President's order; and if he did refuse, the prosecution, while he remained in office, would still go on; because the President himself could give no order to the court or to the clerk to make any particular entry. He could only act through his subordinate officer, the District Attorney, who is responsible to him and who holds his office at his pleasure. And if that officer still continues a prosecution which the President is satisfied ought not to continue, the removal of the disobedient officer and the substitution of one more worthy in his place would enable the President through him faithfully to execute the law. And it is for this among other reasons that the power of removing the District Attorney resides in the President."
The President as Law Interpreter
The power accruing to the President from his function of law interpretation preparatory to law enforcement is daily illustrated in relation to such statutes as the Anti-Trust Acts, the Taft-Hartley Act, the Internal Security Act, and many lesser statutes. Nor is this the whole story. Not only do all presidential regulations and orders based on statutes that vest power in him or on his own constitutional powers have the force of law, provided they do not transgress the Court's reading of such statutes or of the Constitution,
Military Power in Law Enforcement: The Posse Comitatus
"Whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State or Territory by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, he may call into Federal service such of the militia of any State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion."
"The President, by using the militia or the armed forces, or both . . . shall take such measures as he considers necessary to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy, if it-(1) so hinders the execution of the laws of that State, and of the United States within the State, that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law . . . ."
These quoted provisions of the United States Code consolidate a course of legislation which began at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion of 1792.
Suspension of Habeas Corpus by the President
See Article I, § 9.
Preventive Martial Law
The question of executive power in the presence of civil disorder is dealt with in modern terms in Moyer v. Peabody,
". . . In such a situation we must assume that he had a right under the state constitution and laws to call out troops, as was held by the Supreme Court of the State.... That means that he shall make the ordinary use of the soldiers to that end; that he may kill persons who resist and, of course, that he may use the milder measure of seizing the bodies of those whom he considers to stand in the way of restoring peace. Such arrests are not necessarily for punishment, but are by way of precaution to prevent the exercise of hostile power. So long as such arrests are made in good faith and in the honest belief that they are needed in order to head the insurrection off, the Governor is the final judge and cannot be subjected to an action after he is out of office on the ground for his belief."
". . . When it comes to a decision by the head of the State upon a matter involving its life, the ordinary rights of individuals must yield to what he deems the necessities of the moment. Public danger warrants the substitution of executive process for judicial process."
The Debs Case.-The Debs case of 1895 arose out of a railway strike which had caused the President to dispatch troops to Chicago the previous year. Coincidentally with this move, the United States district attorney stationed there, acting upon orders from Washington, obtained an injunction from the United States circuit court forbidding the strike because of its interference with the mails and with interstate commerce. The question before the Supreme Court was whether this injunction, for violation of which Debs had been jailed for contempt of court, had been granted with jurisdiction. Conceding, in effect, that there was no statutory warrant for the injunction, the Court nevertheless validated it on the ground that the Government was entitled thus to protect its property in the mails, and on a much broader ground which is stated in the following passage of Justice Brewer's opinion for the Court: "Every government, entrusted, by the very terms of its being, with powers and duties to be exercised and discharged for the general welfare, has a right to apply to its own courts for any proper assistance in the exercise of the one and the discharge of the other.... While it is not the province of the Government to interfere in any mere matter of private controversy between individuals, or to use its granted powers to enforce the rights of one against another, yet, whenever the wrongs complained of are such as affect the public at large, and are in respect of matters which by the Constitution are entrusted to the care of the Nation and concerning which the Nation owes the duty to all the citizens of securing to them their common rights, then the mere fact that the Government has no pecuniary interest in the controversy is not sufficient to exclude it from the courts, or prevent it from taking measures therein to fully discharge those constitutional duties."
Present Status of the Debs Case.-Insofar as the use of injunctive relief in labor disputes is concerned, enactment of the Norris-LaGuardia Act
With regard to the power of the President to seek injunctive relief in other situations without statutory authority, there is no clear precedent. In New York Times Co. v. United States,
The Presidents Duty in Cases of Domestic Violence in the States
See Article IV, § 4, Guarantee of Republican Form of Government , and discussion of "Martial Law and Domestic Disorder " under Article II, § 2, cl. 1.
The President as Executor of the Law of Nations
Illustrative of the President's duty to discharge the responsibilities of the United States in international law with a view to avoiding difficulties with other governments was the action of President Wilson in closing the Marconi Wireless Station at Siasconset, Massachusetts, on the outbreak of the European War in 1914, the company having refused assurance that it would comply with naval censorship regulations. Justifying this drastic invasion of private rights, Attorney General Gregory said: "The President of the United States is at the head of one of the three great coordinate departments of the Government. He is Commander in Chief of the Army and the Navy. . . . If the President is of the opinion that the relations of this country with foreign nations are, or are likely to be endangered by action deemed by him inconsistent with a due neutrality, it is his right and duty to protect such relations; and in doing so, in the absence of any statutory restrictions, he may act through such executive office or department as appears best adapted to effectuate the desired end.... I do not hesitate, in view of the extraordinary conditions existing, to advise that the President, through the Secretary of the Navy or any appropriate department, close down, or take charge of and operate, the plant . . . should he deem it necessary in securing obedience to his proclamation of neutrality."
Protection of American Rights of Person and Property Abroad
In 1854, one Lieutenant Hollins, in command of a United States warship, bombarded the town of Greytown, Nicaragua because of the refusal of local authorities to pay reparations for an attack by a mob on the United States consul.
"Now, as it respects the interposition of the Executive abroad, for the protection of the lives or property of the citizen, the duty must, of necessity, rest in the discretion of the President. Acts of lawless violence, or of threatened violence to the citizen or his property, cannot be anticipated and provided for; and the protection, to be effectual or of any avail, may, not unfrequently, require the most prompt and decided action. Under our system of Government, the citizen abroad is as much entitled to protection as the citizen at home. The great object and duty of Government is the protection of the lives, liberty, and property of the people composing it, whether abroad or at home; and any Government failing in the accomplishment of the object, or the performance of the duty, is not worth preserving."
This incident and this case were but two items in the 19th century advance of the concept that the President had the duty and the responsibility to protect American lives and property abroad through the use of armed forces if deemed necessary.
Congress and the President versus Foreign Expropriation
Congress has asserted itself in one area of protection of United States property abroad, making provision against uncompensated expropriation of property belonging to United States citizens and corporations. The problem of expropriation of foreign property and the compensation to be paid therefor remains an unsettled area of international law, of increasing importance because of the changes and unsettled conditions following World War II.
Presidential Action in the Domain of Congress: the Steel Seizure Case
To avert a nationwide strike of steel workers which he believed would jeopardize the national defense, President Truman, on April 8, 1952, issued an executive order directing the Secretary of Commerce to seize and operate most of the steel industry of the country.
The Doctrine of the Opinion of the Court
The chief points urged in the Black opinion are the following: There was no statute that expressly or impliedly authorized the President to take possession of the property involved. On the contrary, in its consideration of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, Congress refused to authorize governmental seizures of property as a method of preventing work stoppages and settling labor disputes. Authority to issue such an order in the circumstances of the case was not deducible from the aggregate of the President's executive powers under Article II of the Constitution; nor was the order maintainable as an exercise of the President's powers as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The power sought to be exercised was the lawmaking power, which the Constitution vests in the Congress alone. Even if it were true that other Presidents have taken possession of private business enterprises without congressional authority in order to settle labor disputes, Congress was not thereby divested of its exclusive constitutional authority to make the laws necessary and proper to carry out all powers vested by the Constitution "in the Government of the United States, or any Department or Officer thereof."
The Doctrine Considered
The pivotal proposition of the opinion of the Court is that, inasmuch as Congress could have directed the seizure of the steel mills, the President had no power to do so without prior congressional authorization. To this reasoning, not only the dissenters but Justice Clark would not concur, and in fact they stated baldly that the reasoning was contradicted by precedent, both judicial and presidential and congressional practice. One of the earliest pronouncements on presidential power in this area was that of Chief Justice Marshall in Little v. Barreme.
Other examples are at hand. In 1799, President Adams, in order to execute the extradition provisions of the Jay Treaty, issued a warrant for the arrest of one Robbins and the action was challenged in Congress on the ground that no statutory authority existed by which the President could act; John Marshall defended the action in the House of Representatives, the practice continued, and it was not until 1848 that Congress enacted a statute governing this subject.
Justice Frankfurter's concurring opinion
The dissent was also fortunate in that the steel companies' chief counsel, John W. Davis, a former Solicitor General of the United States, had filed a brief in 1914 in defense of Presidential action, which had taken precisely the view that the dissent now presented.
"Therefore it follows that in ways short of making laws or disobeying them, the Executive may be under a grave constitutional duty to act for the national protection in situations not covered by the acts of Congress, and in which, even, it may not be said that his action is the direct expression of any particular one of the independent powers which are granted to him specifically by the Constitution. Instances wherein the President has felt and fulfilled such a duty have not been rare in our history, though, being for the public benefit and approved by all, his acts have seldom been challenged in the courts."
Power Denied by Congress
Justice Black's opinion of the Court in Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer notes that Congress had refused to give the President seizure authority and had authorized other actions, which had not been taken.
Justice Jackson attempted a schematic representation of presidential powers, which "are not fixed but fluctuate, depending upon their disjunction or conjunction with those of Congress." Thus, there are essentially three possibilities. "1. When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possess in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate.... 2. When the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority, he can only rely upon his own independent powers, but there is a zone of twilight in which he and Congress may have concurrent authority, or in which its distribution is uncertain.... 3. When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter. Courts can sustain exclusive presidential control in such a case only by disabling the Congress from acting upon the subject."
Justice Burton, referring to the Taft-Hartley Act, said that "the most significant feature of that Act is its omission of authority to seize," citing debate on the measure to show that the omission was a conscious decision.
Despite the opinion of the Court, therefore, it seems clear that four of the six Justices in the majority were more moved by the fact that the President had acted in a manner considered and rejected by Congress in a field in which Congress was empowered to establish the rules, rules the President is to see faithfully executed, than with the fact that the President's action was a form of "lawmaking" in a field committed to the province of Congress. The opinion of the Court, therefore, and its doctrinal implications must be considered with care, inasmuch as it is doubtful that that opinion does lay down a constitutional rule. Whatever the implications of the opinions of the individual Justices for the doctrine of "inherent" presidential powers-and they are significant-the implications for the area here under consideration are cloudy and have remained so from the time of the decision.
Presidential Immunity from Judicial Direction
By the decision of the Court in Mississippi v. Johnson,
The duty thus imposed on the President is in no just sense ministerial. It is purely executive and political."
"An attempt on the part of the judicial department of the government to enforce the performance of such duties by the President might be justly characterized, in the language of Chief Justice Marshall, as 'an absurd and excessive extravagance."'
"It is true that in the instance before us the interposition of the court is not sought to enforce action by the Executive under constitutional legislation, but to restrain such action under legislation alleged to be unconstitutional. But we are unable to perceive that this circumstance takes the case out of the general principles which forbid judicial interference with the exercise of Executive discretion."
"The Congress is the legislative department of the government; the President is the executive department. Neither can be restrained in its action by the judicial department; though the acts of both, when performed, are, in proper cases, subject to its cognizance."
"The impropriety of such interference will be clearly seen upon consideration of its possible consequences."
"Suppose the bill filed and the injunction prayed for allowed. If the President refuse obedience, it is needless to observe that the court is without power to enforce its process. If, on the other hand, the President complies with the order of the court and refuses to execute the acts of Congress, is it not clear that a collision may occur between the executive and legislative departments of the government? May not the House of Representatives impeach the President for such refusal? And in that case could this court interfere, in behalf of the President, thus endangered by compliance with its mandate, and restrain by injunction the Senate of the United States from sitting as a court of impeachment? Would the strange spectacle be offered to the public world of an attempt by this court to arrest proceedings in that court?"
Rare has been the opportunity for the Court to elucidate its opinion in Mississippi v. Johnson, and, in the Watergate tapes case,
Present throughout the Watergate crisis, and unresolved by it, was the question of the amenability of the President to criminal prosecution prior to conviction upon impeachment.
Finally, most recently, the Court has definitively resolved one of the intertwined issues of presidential accountability. The President is absolutely immune in actions for civil damages for all acts within the "outer perimeter" of his official duties.
In Clinton v. Jones,
The President's Subordinates
While the courts may be unable to compel the President to act or to prevent him from acting, his acts, when performed, are in proper cases subject to judicial review and disallowance. Typically, the subordinates through whom he acts may be sued, in a form of legal fiction, to enjoin the commission of acts which might lead to irreparable damage
Different rules prevail when such an official is sued for a "constitutional tort" for wrongs allegedly in violation of our basic charter,
The power to commission officers, as applied in practice, does not mean that the President is under constitutional obligation to commission those whose appointments have reached that stage, but merely that it is he and no one else who has the power to commission them, and that he may do so at his discretion. Under the doctrine of Marbury v. Madison, the sealing and delivery of the commission is a purely ministerial act which has been lodged by statute with the Secretary of State, and which may be compelled by mandamus unless the appointee has been in the meantime validly removed.