At times during our nation’s history, the executive branch of the United States government has tested the limits of its power by taking actions that are not explicitly granted to the president or executive branch. For example, in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (the “Steel Seizure Case”) (1952), the Supreme Court addressed the issue of executive power during emergencies in the absence of express statutory or Constitutional authority. The Supreme Court decision spans more than 140 pages, including Justice Hugo Black’s opinion for the majority, holding that President Harry S. Truman had exceeded the limits of the president’s power, as well as concurring opinions from each of the five members of the Court agreeing with Black’s conclusions, and a long dissent by the Chief Justice. The decision and bases for the Steel Seizure Case are hard to discern from the six opinions written to support the majority. Justice Robert Jackson’s concurrence is often cited to assess the limits of executive power, as it sets forth a categorization that is the most comprehensible of the six opinions.
“… if constitutionally we elect a President, and therefore you undertake to destroy the Union, it will be our duty to deal with you as old John Brown has been dealt with.”
– Abraham Lincoln, December 3, 1859
John Brown had been hanged for treason on December 2, 1859. Brown had lead a raid on the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia on October 16. Brown and his group had intended to secure weapons to arm slaves for a revolt against their masters. The United States Marines, commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee captured the raiders, foiling the plan. On November 2, Brown received his death sentence.