An executive order is one of the most commonly used powers in our modern government by the American president. Every president has utilized this power since President George Washington took office in 1789. Executive orders can be controversial and appear to be implemented instantly into law, however many do not understand what they are, what they do, and why they are implemented. From George Washington to Donald Trump, there have been over 13,000 issued executive orders.
An executive order is signed, written, and published directive document, dealing with the operations of the federal government. They are numbered in consecutive order in which they are published by each president. They are numbered this way, so that they can be easily referenced to. They can also be found according to their topic. It is easy to confuse the executive order document with other executive documents such as proclamations and administrative orders. Proclamations are also signed by the president and numbered in a consecutive order, but are documents that communicate information on holidays, commemorations, federal observances, and trade. Administrative orders are not numbered consecutively but are signed by the president. Administrative orders are also utilized to manage the federal government. All three types of documents- executive orders, proclamations, and administrative orders are all published to the Federal Register, the daily journal made by the federal government to inform the public about actions of the federal government. Both executive orders and proclamations have the force of law, just like the regulations published by other federal agencies. Executive orders and proclamation are codified like other regulations from other federal agencies under Title 3 of the Code of Regulations. Governors can also issue executive orders like presidents. For example, governors often issue executive orders to declare states of emergency to authorize the mobilization of various state resources to provide aid in this crisis.
President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation executive order issued in 1862
It is important to understand that executive orders are not legislation. The president enacts these orders on his or her own, without any approval from Congress. Most executive orders are enforced because the president desires to bypass Congress. Congress cannot overturn them, as only a sitting president can overturn an executive order made by a former president. Congress can do everything in their power to make the executive order not have a large effect, such as making a law that would remove funding that would go directly to the president’s executive order. The president can possibly veto this defunding, however. Executive orders are legally binding, and the Supreme Court has upheld a majority of executive orders.
Executive orders are especially controversial in today’s politics. Presidents have long defended their use of executive orders with the argument of this power being granted to the executive branch through the Constitution. The effects of executive orders can be tremendous and long-lasting such as executive orders dealing with domestic policy and war.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president who issued over 3,721 executive orders over his 12 years in office. Photo credit: PBS News Hour
There are famous executive orders that presidents from the past to recent times have put into place. President Abraham Lincoln, through the power of an executive order suspended the writ of habeus corpus, and declared the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all persons held as slaves in the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president who has issued the most executive orders, issued an order in 1942 that led to the Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. President Ronald Regan issued an executive order that banned federal funds from being distributed for abortions in 1984. President Clinton reversed this executive order when he took office in 1993. President Obama issued one in 2012, which halted the deportation of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants that were brought to the United States as children. Most recently, President Trump has issued an executive order on May 28, 2020 on preventing online censorship.