No Rule by Decree
Sixty years ago, on April 8, 1952, President Harry Truman directed his secretary of commerce, Charles Sawyer, to seize and take over operation of the nation’s steel companies, in order to give steelworkers a wage increase and avert a strike threatening steel production during the Korean War. Truman’s action led, in short order, to one of the most famous and important of all modern Supreme Court decisions—Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, the “steel seizure case.” The decision dominated the nation’s headlines in the spring of 1952, just as the Obamacare case has gripped the nation’s attention this spring. Indeed, the two cases have more than that in common.
Youngstown is the landmark case that invalidated Truman’s action. The Court held, in sweeping and categorical terms, that the president may not rule by decree, conscripting private industry to carry out his commands. The chief executive may only execute laws passed by Congress, according to their terms. He may not make up laws of his own and then enforce them.
In February, President Obama an-nounced his intention to order private insurance companies to provide contraception and abortion drug coverage free, as his way of “accommodating” religious institutions’ conscientious objections to being forced to provide their employees coverage of those items under Obamacare. Like Truman six decades ago, Obama has proposed in effect to seize a national industry and tell it what to do, without any warrant in enacted law. Like Truman’s steel seizure, Obama’s insurance seizure is flat unconstitutional—as unconstitutional as anything any president has attempted to do—and Obama does not even have Truman’s excuse of a national security crisis.