Writing three years after leaving the White House, President Harry Truman argued that "the president...must always act in national emergency...[He]must be able to act at all times to meet any sudden threat to the nation's security." Did the majority in the Steel Seizure Case reject this position?
The majority of the Supreme Court clearly did reject this idea in the Youngstown case. Truman argued in that case that the presidency inherently had the power to act in cases of national emergency. The Court rejected this stance, ruling instead that the president needed either an explicit grant of power in the Constitution or an explicit grant of power from Congress. Neither, it said, existed in this case.
Truman argued that the presidency has certain powers that are implied by the Constitution. He argued, for example, that the power of the commander-in-chief implied the ability to take actions that were necessary to prosecute a war. The seizure, he argued, was such an action.
The Court rejected the idea that the president has unlimited power in an emergency. It ruled (though the many concurrences diluted the message) that presidents needed to have explicit grants of power. There is no “elastic clause” in Article II of the Constitution that gives the president implied powers. The Constitution does not grant the right to act unilaterally with regard to the seizure of private property within the US. The Congress, the Court ruled, had given no such right via statute. Therefore, the majority rejected Truman’s claim of sweeping powers in cases of national emergencies.