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United Mine Workers v. United States


330 U.S. 258 (1947)

When John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers went on strike in the spring of 1946 against coal operators throughout the country, President harry s. truman, acting as commander-in-chief, seized the mines by executive order to protect the national interest during the emergency. The failure of subsequent negotiations prompted a call that autumn for a second strike, which the government forestalled by obtaining an injunction in federal district court. Lewis defied the injunction, incurring contempt citations, a personal fine of $10,000, and a fine against his union of $3,500,000.

Lewis appealed to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice fred m. vinson, for a 7–2 majority, held that neither the norris-laguardia nor the clayton act deprived the district court of jurisdiction to issue the injunction pending judicial interpretation of the contract between the government and the miners. The majority denied the assertion that the "employer" referred to in the acts included the government; neither legislative history nor subsequent policy demonstrated any intent to make those acts applicable to government-employee disputes. Moreover, even if the Norris-LaGuardia Act applied, the Court could legitimately issue an injunction to maintain existing conditions pending the court's decision on its jurisdiction. The Court upheld the contempt findings—asserting that the same conduct might constitute both civil and criminal contempt for which both coercive and punitive measures might be imposed—and the fine against Lewis, but remanded the case for redetermination of the union fine.

David Gordon

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