San Diego Law Review

Library of Congress Authority File


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Although the Air Mail Affair dominated the country’s headlines as it unfolded throughout the winter and spring of 1934, it is mostly a forgotten chapter in American history. Without warning, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Postmaster General James Farley annulled the airmail contracts with more than thirty different commercial airlines. On February 9, 1934, Roosevelt entered Executive Order 6591 directing the U.S. Army Air Corps to fly the mail instead of the commercial airlines, which were denied a grievance procedure or an opportunity to be heard.

The carriers filed suit, but the United States Court of Claims did not decide the case until several years later on December 7, 1942. In Pacific Air Transport v. United States, the court held that Postmaster General Farley justifiably annulled the airmail contracts negotiated by former Postmaster General Walter Brown, but the commercial airlines were entitled to payment withheld by Roosevelt and Farley for the airmail services provided in January and February 1934.

Following a review of the existing, relevant, and possibly persuasive case law from this time period, this Article analyzes the Pacific Air decision and specifically considers whether President Roosevelt violated separation of powers and offended due process as guaranteed by the Constitution when he abruptly canceled the airmail contracts with the commercial mail carriers.

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