What Exactly is an Executive Order?
Executive Orders and National Emergencies
Until World War I, the Executive Order was used for relatively minor, usually unnoticed acts of state. A trend that changed drastically with passage of the War Powers Act of 1917. This act passed during WWI granted the President temporary powers to immediately enact laws regulating trade, economy, and other aspects of policy as they pertained to enemies of America. A key section of the War Powers act also contained language specifically excluding American citizens from its effects.
The War Powers Act remained in effect and unchanged until 1933 when a freshly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt found America in the panic stage of the Great Depression. The first thing FDR did was to convene a special session of Congress where he introduced a bill amending the War Powers Act to remove the clause excluding American citizens from being bound by its effects. This would allow the President to declare “national emergencies” and unilaterally intact laws to deal with them. This massive amendment was approved by both houses of Congress in under 40 minutes without debate. Hours later, FDR officially declared the depression a “national emergency” and stared issuing a string of Executive Orders that effectively were the “New Deal.”
While some of FDR’s actions were, perhaps, constitutionally questionable, history recognizes them as averting the growing panic and starting our economy on its way to recovery.
Executive Orders Issued by President George W. Bush
Executive Orders Issued by President Bill Clinton
(Given the large body of executive orders issued by both of these Presidents, I am ashamed that I have never wondered before. But I never had to answer a fourteen-year-old earnestly attempting to understand government before, either, so perhaps I may be excused?)
There is no specific mention of executive orders in the Constitution, but look at Article 2, Sections 1 and 3, these are the two sections "vaguely granting" the power of executive order to the President.
And I am reminded of the functions of the three branches of the federal government: the function of the Legislative branch is to make new laws and change existing ones, based on the Constitution; the function of the Judicial branch is to study and interpret the laws; the function of the Executive branch is to execute them.
Congress or the Supreme Court can strike down executive orders, but I have lost the place that said how. I think Congress can oppose by a 2/3 majority and the Supreme Court can strike down an order as unconstitutional. I'll have to read my articles again, with more attention, to find out if that is indeed the case.
Also, Reuters reported yesterday that President-elect Obama's team said he has not yet made any decisions regarding the reversing of Bush executive orders.
Using executive orders appears to me to have been very common down through the ages-- I think it becomes a bigger issue when the Congress and the Presidency are very happy with one another, rather than working to lessen the other's power. The adversarial relationship between the three branches is beneficial to our nation in that it limits the power of government, thereby granting the citizens more liberty.
I don't know... it seems like Presidents also use executive orders when they *can't* expect the support of Congress, but still feel very strongly that some thing or other ought to change. So, either way, it is an issue. The question being: should Presidents be allowed to govern by directive or not?