Youngstown Sheet & Tube: becoming the Great Oz

Blankenstein, Eric Gabriel, Department of History, University of Virginia
Mccurdy, Charles, As-History, University of Virginia
Zelikow, Philip, As-History, University of Virginia

This thesis traces the evolution of the academic and judicial understanding of Youngstown and the mistaken belief in its doctrinal weight, from a case with a popular outcome supported by controversial legal reasoning, to one of the most celebrated separation-of-powers cases in the history of the Supreme Court. It begins with an examination of literature from the early-to-mid 1950s. The Youngstown decision was lauded in the popular press as the preservation of constitutional democracy. These news accounts focused solely on the outcome of the case, and devoted little attention to the legal reasoning of the seven opinions. By contrast, reaction to the case from the legal academy was mixed. Some commentators believed that the Court erred in its holding, and that the justices in the majority ignored both Court precedent and consistent executive practice. Others praised the Youngstown majority for its dedication to separation of powers. Constitutional casebooks published in the 1950s recognized the importance of Youngstown, but disagreed on which of the seven opinions were important, which broader constitutional themes were most impacted by the holding, and what if any larger lessons should have been taken from the decision.

The thesis then examines Youngstown's influence on the judiciary prior to 1975. Youngstown held very little sway at the Supreme Court during this period. It was rarely cited, and when the case did find its way into a Court opinion, it was not used to resolve separation-of-powers controversies. However, during this period Youngstown was having some effect on the judicial system, most famously in the dispute involving President Nixon's claim of broad executive privilege and immunity from compulsory process. The thesis next reviews academic commentary on separation-of-powers issues in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Like their counterparts in the 1950s, academics writing in this later period were divided over the ultimate lessons of Youngstown. However, this new generation of scholars was evaluating claims of executive power in light of Youngstown and other judicial pronouncements, while the earlier research focused on whether the judiciary had properly construed executive power in light of executive and legislative practice. For this new generation of scholars, Youngstown was applicable to nearly every claim of executive power, and could be marshaled to support either side of any given dispute. For a landmark case to have that level of pliability twenty years after it was first decided is odd to say the least.

Abstract copied from introduction.

MA (Master of Arts)
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