Checks and Balances

About the Film

In Youngstown v. Sawyer, a battle that starts as fight between a president and industry leaders makes its way to the Supreme Court as a test of the separation of powers. This time the setting is the Oval Office. Harry S. Truman is President, and he had inherited from his predecessor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a remarkable amount of power. After finishing the war with Germany and Japan, Truman and almost losing to Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election, Truman was back for one more term, and he went back to war…sort of. Truman sent troops to fight in Korea without asking Congress to declare war.

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But when union troubles among steelworkers and the steel industry executives threatened to halt production, Truman did all he could to keep the factories running—he needed that steel to help fight the conflict in Korea, after all. But Truman went too far. Unwilling to use the provisions of a recent law passed by Congress to deal with just this sort of situation because he believed it was unfair to the union, Truman did what he considered to be his only option: he took over the steel industry.

But the industry was not willing to take this lying down and within a few short weeks the case had reached the Supreme Court. Truman assumed he’d be victorious—he was the President, after all, and all of the Justices had been appointed either by him or FDR. And yet the Court, affirming its independence and proving that it’s free from political considerations, sided against the President and took the first step to limiting the powers of the office of the Chief Executive just years after they had been at their highest.

Further Reading

Learn about Harry Truman from the Truman Library

Read Truman’s presidential address about the steel seizure

Read Justice Jackson’s decision in Youngstown v. Sawyer


Producer and Writer, Robe Imbriano
Associate Producer, Maria E. Matasar-Padilla
Editors, Sak Costanzo and Liz Mermin
Graphics Animator, Stevie Clifton
Director of Photography, Edward Marritz
Narrator, Erik Todd Dellums
Host, Dan Harris
Production Associate, Konstantinos Kambouroglou
Coordinating Producer, Gabrielle Tenenbaum
Sound, Mark Mandler
Music, Gavin Allen and Ben Decter
Associate Editor, Marc Tidalgo
Senior Editorial Producer, Todd Brewster
Senior Producer, Kayce Freed Jennings
Executive Producer, Tom Yellin