Yakus v. United States

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321 U.S. 414 (1944), argued 7 Jan. 1944, decided 27 Mar. 1944 by vote of 6 to 3, Stone for the Court, Roberts, Rutledge, and Murphy in dissent. The Court upheld congressional power to fetter judicial review and to delegate broad and flexible lawmaking power to an administrative agency in this constitutional challenge to the Emergency Price Control Act of 1942. The wartime anti-inflation measure, intended to expedite price control enforcement, conferred on the lower federal courts jurisdiction over violations of Office of Price Administration (OPA) regulations made under the act. But judicial power to consider the validity of such regulations was excepted. Congress specified that challenges to them be initially reviewed under stringent time limitations by the OPA and on appeal exclusively by a special Article III tribunal in the District of Columbia—the Emergency Court of Appeals and thereafter by the Supreme Court. Massachusetts meat dealer Albert Yakus, criminally prosecuted for violating the wholesale beef price ceiling, had failed to launch a procedurally difficult preenforcement attack on the regulation's constitutionality. The Court affirmed his conviction, holding that “so long as there is an opportunity … for judicial review which satisfies the demands of due process,” the bifurcated enforcement and constitutional proceedings were permissible (p. 444).

In dissent, Wiley Rutledge, with Frank Murphy, asserted that once Congress conferred jurisdiction, it could not compel the justices to ignore Marbury v. Madison nor to violate the Constitution by criminally enforcing unconstitutional regulations. A Yakus-like incontestability provision reached the Court in Adamo Wrecking Co. v. United States (1978). Statutory construction facilitated evasion of the constitutional issue, but Lewis Powell, concurring, questioned the validity of Yakus.

Owen Roberts's dissent in Yakus contended that the OPA had exercised unconstitutionally delegated congressional powers. The New Deal Court majority reacted by stipulating that statutory standards need only be sufficiently defined to permit ascertainment of the administrative agency's obedience to the congressional will.

Peter G. Fish

Subjects: Law.

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