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Dames & Moore v. Regan

Supreme Court of the United States

June 24, 1981, Argued ; July 2, 1981, Decided

No. 80-2078


 [*659]  [***927]  [**2976]    JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

The questions presented by this case touch fundamentally upon the manner in which our Republic is to be governed. Throughout the nearly two centuries of our Nation's existence under the Constitution, this subject has generated considerable debate.  We have had the benefit of commentators such as John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison writing in The Federalist Papers at the Nation's very inception, the benefit of astute foreign observers of our system such as  [*660]  Alexis de Tocqueville and James Bryce writing during the first century of the Nation's existence, and the benefit of many other treatises as well as more than 400 volumes of reports of decisions of this Court. As these writings  [****13]  reveal it is doubtless both futile and perhaps dangerous to find any epigrammatical  [***928]  explanation of how this country has been governed. Indeed, as Justice Jackson noted, "[a] judge . . . may be surprised at the poverty of really useful and unambiguous authority applicable to concrete problems of executive power as they actually present themselves." Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, 634 (1952) (concurring opinion).

 Our decision today will not dramatically alter this situation, for the Framers "did not make the judiciary the overseer of our government." Id., at 594 [**2977]  (Frankfurter, J., concurring).  We are confined to a resolution of the dispute presented to us. That dispute involves various Executive Orders and regulations by which the President nullified attachments and liens on Iranian assets in the United States, directed that these assets be transferred to Iran, and suspended claims against Iran that may be presented to an International Claims Tribunal. This action was taken in an effort to comply with an Executive Agreement between the United States and Iran. We granted certiorari before judgment [****14]  in this case, and set an expedited briefing and argument schedule, because lower courts had reached conflicting conclusions on the validity of the President's actions and, as the Solicitor General informed us, unless the Government acted by July 19, 1981, Iran could consider the United States to be in breach of the Executive Agreement.

But before turning to the facts and law which we believe determine the result in this case, we stress that the expeditious treatment of the issues involved by all of the courts which have considered the President's actions makes us acutely aware of the necessity to rest decision on the narrowest possible ground capable of deciding the case. Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U.S. 288, 347  [*661]  (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring). This does not mean that reasoned analysis may give way to judicial fiat. It does mean that the statement of Justice Jackson -- that we decide difficult cases presented to us by virtue of our commissions, not our competence -- is especially true here. We attempt to lay down no general "guidelines" covering other situations not involved here, and attempt to confine the opinion only to the very questions necessary [****15]  to decision of the case.

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453 U.S. 654 *; 101 S. Ct. 2972 **; 69 L. Ed. 2d 918 ***; 1981 U.S. LEXIS 44 ****; 49 U.S.L.W. 4969



Disposition: Affirmed.


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