War Legislation


War Powers in Peacetime

To some indeterminate extent, the power to wage war embraces the power to prepare for it and the power to deal with the problems of adjustment following its cessation. Justice Story emphasized that “[i]t is important also to consider, that the surest means of avoiding war is to be prepared for it in peace.... How could a readiness for war in time of peace be safely prohibited, unless we could in like manner prohibit the preparations and establishments of every hostile nation? . . . It will be in vain to oppose constitutional barriers to the impulse of self-preservation.”1582 Authoritative judicial recognition of the power is found in Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority,1583 in which the power of the Federal Government to construct and operate a dam and power plant, pursuant to the National Defense Act of June 3, 1916,1584 was sustained. The Court noted that the assurance of an abundant supply of electrical energy and of nitrates, which would be produced at the site, “constitute national defense assets” and the project was justifiable under the war powers.1585

Perhaps the most significant example of legislation adopted pursuant to the war powers when no actual “shooting war” was in progress, with the object of strengthening national defense, was the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, establishing a body to oversee and further the research into and development of atomic energy for both military and civil purposes.1586 Congress has also authorized a vast amount of highway construction, pursuant to its conception of their “primary importance to the national defense,”1587 and the first extensive program of federal financial assistance in the field of education was the National Defense Education Act.1588 The post-World War II years, though nominally peacetime, constituted the era of the Cold War and the occasions for several armed conflicts, notably in Korea and Indochina, in which the Congress enacted much legislation designed to strengthen national security, including an apparently permanent draft,1589 authorization of extensive space exploration,1590 authorization for wage and price controls,1591 and continued extension of the Renegotiation Act to recapture excess profits on defense contracts.1592 Additionally, the period saw extensive regulation of matter affecting individual rights, such as loyalty-security programs,1593 passport controls,1594 and limitations on members of the Communist Party and associated organizations,1595 all of which are dealt with in other sections.


STATES 1180 (1833).

1583 297 U.S. 288 (1936).

1584 39 Stat. 166 (1916).

1585 297 U.S. at 327–328.

1586 60 Stat. 755 (1946), 42 U.S.C. § 1801 et seq.

1587 108(a), 70 Stat. 374, 378 (1956), 23 U.S.C. § 101(b), naming the Interstate System the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.”

1588 72 Stat. 1580 (1958), as amended, codified to various sections of Titles 20 and 42.

1589 Universal Military Training and Service Act of 1948, 62 Stat. 604, as amended, 50 U.S.C. App. §§ 451–473. Actual conscription has been precluded as of July 1, 1973, P. L. 92–129, 85 Stat. 353, 50 U. S. C. App. 467(c), although registration for possible conscription is in effect. P. L. 96–282, 94 Stat. 552 (1980).

1590 National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, 72 Stat. 426, as amended, codified in various sections of Titles 5, 18, and 50.

1591 Title II of the Defense Production Act Amendments of 1970, 84 Stat. 799, as amended, provided temporary authority for wage and price controls, a power which the President subsequently exercised. E.O. 11615, 36 Fed Reg. 15727 (August 16, 1971). Subsequent legislation expanded the President’s authority. 85 Stat. 743, 12 U.S.C. § 1904 note.

1592 Renogtiation Act of 1951, 65 Stat. 7, as amended, 50 U.S.C. App. § 1211 et seq.

1593 E.g., Cafeteria & Restaurant Workers v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886 (1961); Peters v. Hobby, 349 U.S. 331 (1955).

1594 Zemel v. Rusk, 381 U.S. 1 (1965); United States v. Laub, 385 U.S. 475 (1967).

1595 United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258 (1967); United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437 (1965).

A particular province of such legislation is that designed to effect a transition from war to peace. The war power “is not limited to victories in the field.... It carries with it inherently the power to guard against the immediate renewal of the conflict, and to remedy the evils which have arisen from its rise and progress.”1596

This principle was given a much broader application after the First World War in Hamilton v. Kentucky Distilleries Co.,1597 where the War Time Prohibition Act1598 adopted after the signing of the Armistice was upheld as an appropriate measure for increasing war efficiency. The Court was unable to conclude that the war emergency had passed with the cessation of hostilities.1599 But in 1924, it held that a rent control law for the District of Columbia, which had been previously upheld,1600 had ceased to operate because the emergency which justified it had come to an end.1601

1596 Stewart v. Kahn, 78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 493, 507 (1871) (sustaining a congressional deduction from a statute of limitations the period during which the Civil War prevented the bringing of an action). See also Mayfield v. Richards, 115 U.S. 137 (1885).

1597 251 U.S. 146 (1919). See also Ruppert v. Caffey, 251 U.S. 264 (1920).

1598 Act of November 21, 1918, 40 Stat. 1046.

1599 251 U.S. at 163.

1600 Block v. Hirsh, 256 U.S. 135 (1921).

1601 Chastleton Corp. v. Sinclair, 264 U.S. 543 (1924).

A similar issue was presented after World War II, and the Court held that the authority of Congress to regulate rents by virtue of the war power did not end with the presidential proclamation terminating hostilities on December 31, 1946.1602 However, the Court cautioned that “[w]e recognize the force of the argument that the effects of war under modern conditions may be felt in the economy for years and years, and that if the war power can be used in days of peace to treat all the wounds which war inflicts on our society, it may not only swallow up all other powers of Congress but largely obliterate the Ninth and Tenth Amendments as well. There are no such implications in today’s decision.”1603

In the same year, the Court sustained by only a five-to-four vote the Government’s contention that the power which Congress had conferred upon the President to deport enemy aliens in times of a declared war was not exhausted when the shooting stopped.1604 “It is not for us to question,” said Justice Frankfurter for the Court, “a belief by the President that enemy aliens who were justifiably deemed fit subjects for internment during active hostilites [sic] do not lose their potency for mischief during the period of confusion and conflict which is characteristic of a state of war even when the guns are silent but the peace of Peace has not come.”1605

Delegation of Legislative Power in Wartime

The Court has insisted that in times of war as in times of peace “the respective branches of the Government keep within the power assigned to each,”1606 thus raising the issue of permissible delegation, inasmuch as during a war Congress has been prone to delegate many more powers to the President than at other times.1607 But the number of cases actually discussing the matter is few.1608 Two theories have been advanced at times when the delegation doctrine carried more force than it has in recent years. First, it is suggested that inasmuch as the war power is inherent in the Federal Government, and one shared by the legislative and executive branches, Congress does not really delegate legislative power when it authorizes the President to exercise the war power in a prescribed manner, a view which entirely overlooks the fact that the Constitution expressly vests the war power as a legislative power in Congress. Second, it is suggested that Congress’ power to delegate in wartime is limited as in other situations but that the existence of a state of war is a factor weighing in favor of the validity of the delegation.

1602 Woods v. Cloyd W. Miller Co., 333 U.S. 138 (1948). See also Fleming v. Mohawk Wrecking & Lumber Co., 331 U.S. 111 (1947).

1603 333 U.S. at 143–44.

1604 Ludecke v. Watkins, 335 U.S. 160 (1948).

1605 335 U.S. at 170.

1606 Lichter v. United States, 334 U.S. 742, 779 (1948).

1607 For an extensive consideration of this subject in the context of the President’s redelegation of it, see N. GRUNDSTEIN, PRESIDENTIAL DELEGATION OF AUTHORITY IN WARTIME (1961).

1608 In the Selective Draft Law Cases, 245 U.S. 366, 389 (1918), the objection was dismissed without discussion. The issue was decided by reference to peacetime precedents in Yakus v. United States, 321 U.S. 414, 424 (1944).

The first theory was fully stated by Justice Bradley in Hamilton v. Dillin,1609 upholding a levy imposed by the Secretary of the Treasury pursuant to an act of Congress. To the argument that the levy was a tax the fixing of which Congress could not delegate, Justice Bradley noted that the power exercised “does not belong to the same category as the power to levy and collect taxes, duties, and excises. It belongs to the war powers of the Government....”1610

Both theories found expression in different passages of Chief Justice Stone’s opinion in Hirabayashi v. United States,1611 upholding executive imposition of a curfew on Japanese-Americans pursuant to legislative delegation. On the one hand, he spoke to Congress and the Executive, “acting in cooperation,” to impose the curfew,1612 while on the other hand, he noted that a delegation in which Congress has determined the policy and the rule of conduct, leaving to the Executive the carrying-out of the policy, is permissible delegation.1613

A similar ambiguity is found in Lichter v. United States,1614 upholding the Renegotiation Act, but taken as a whole the Court there espoused the second theory. “The power [of delegation] is especially significant in connection with constitutional war powers under which the exercise of broad discretion as to method to be employed may be essential to an effective use of its war powers by Congress. The degree to which Congress must specify its policies and standards in order that the administrative authority granted may not be an unconstitutional delegation of its own legislative power is not capable of precise definition.... Thus, while the constitutional structure and controls of our Government are our guides equally in war and in peace, they must be read with the realistic purposes of the entire instrument fully in mind.”1615 The Court then examined the exigencies of war and concluded that the delegation was valid.1616

1609 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 73 (1875).

1610 88 U.S. at 96–97. Cf. United States v. Chemical Foundation, 272 U.S. 1 (1926).

1611 320 U.S. 81 (1943).

1612 320 U.S. at 91–92, 104.

1613 320 U.S. at 104.

1614 334 U.S. 742 (1948).

1615 334 U.S. at 778–79, 782.

1616 334 U.S. at 778–83.

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Last modified: June 9, 2014