Loving v. United States, 517 U.S. 748, 24 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 748 (1996)

Opinion of the Court

Loving points out that the three Articles were enacted as part of the UCMJ in 1950, well before the need for eliminating absolute discretion in capital sentencing was established in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U. S. 238 (1972), and the cases that followed. (Slight amendments to the Articles have been made since but are not relevant here.) In 1950, he argues, Congress could not have understood that it was giving the President the authority to bring an otherwise invalid capital murder statute in line with Eighth Amendment strictures. Perhaps so, but Furman did not somehow undo the prior delegation. What would have been an act of leniency by the President prior to Furman may have become a constitutional necessity thereafter, see supra, at 755-756, but the fact remains the power to prescribe aggravating circumstances has resided with the President since 1950.


It does not suffice to say that Congress announced its will to delegate certain authority. Congress as a general rule must also "lay down by legislative act an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized to [act] is directed to conform." J. W. Hampton, Jr., & Co. v. United States, 276 U. S. 394, 409 (1928); Touby, 500 U. S., at 165. The intelligible-principle rule seeks to enforce the understanding that Congress may not delegate the power to make laws and so may delegate no more than the authority to make policies and rules that implement its statutes. Field, 143 U. S., at 693-694. Though in 1935 we struck down two delegations for lack of an intelligible principle, A. L. A. Schecter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U. S. 495 (1935), and Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, 293 U. S. 388 (1935), we have since upheld, without exception, delegations under standards phrased in sweeping terms. See, e. g., National Broadcasting Co. v. United States, 319 U. S. 190, 216-217, 225-226 (1943) (upholding delegation to the Federal Communications Commission to regulate radio broadcasting according to


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