Separation of Powers
Myth

Presidents have unlimited power when it comes to executive orders.

Can Presidents use Executive Orders to do Whatever they Want?

Presidents of the U.S. are granted power to create executive orders by the Constitution, but orders must be lawful, keeping in-line with the Constitution and other legal statutes.

In other words, the President has considerable power, but they can’t do “whatever they want” (the United States rejects the concepts of tyrants and Kings by its nature). Furthermore, other branches of government can “check” executive orders and other actions of the executive branch.

What is an executive order: The legislative branch makes all federal laws without exception, however regulations don’t just come from laws. Executive agencies can implement regulations and the head of the Executive (the President) can issue “executive orders”. Thus, executive orders are regulations, that must comply with the law, that originate with the President. See: a List of executive actions by Donald Trump and compare to a List of United States federal executive orders of other Presidents.

What Are Executive Orders?

The Powers of the President in Terms of Executive Orders

The President of The United States is empowered to give Executive Orders by Article II of the U.S. Constitution. The President can use them to tell federal agencies how to use their resources.[1]

All Executive Orders orders must be lawful, adhering to the Constitution and legal statutes.

Executive Orders have the same power as a federal law and can be used to take action relatively quickly.

Executive orders cannot be used to make new laws or appropriate new funds. Only Congress can do that. The President can tell branches of government what to do within legal parameters that have already been set out. All Executive Orders are now numbered and available on the White House Website.[2]

The President may also order proclamations, memorandums, determinations, and notices, but these are administrative rather than executive and may require the advice and consent of the Senate and approval of the House of Representatives. They can also be found on the White House website.

What Can Be Done by Executive Order?

Many of the most sweeping changes in our country’s history have taken place as a result of executive orders.

Lincoln fought the Civil War largely through executive orders. He suspended the writ of habeas corpus and issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Emancipation was given the full force of law only when the 13th amendment was ratified. Franklin Roosevelt used executive order 9066 to establish internment camps for Japanese Americans and created the Works Progress Administration. Dwight Eisenhower used an executive order to put the Arkansas National Guard under federal control to enforce desegregation.[3]

Executive Orders do not need Congressional Approval. They can be used to act quickly and without majority support. All acts of Congress require majority support. Rulings that reconcile an existing federal budget can be passed through the Senate with a 50% majority. All other proposed legal measures need a 60% majority and a filibuster is allowed. Bills may pass back and forth between the House and Senate more than once before being sent to the president for approval or veto.

See the following video by Financial Times.

Executive Orders Explained

What Can’t Be Done by Executive Order?

Presidents can’t do anything that is Congress’ job. They can’t borrow or spend money or raise taxes. They can’t overstep federal bounds and make state laws such as marriage and divorce laws. They can’t take away citizens “life, liberty or property.” They can’t declare war but can protect U.S. citizens and conduct “peacekeeping” operations.[4] The President must respect the separations of powers and may not issue any order regarding a matter the concerns another branch of government.[5]

For a summary of formal Presidential Powers granted by the Constitution see the following videos.

Presidential Power: Crash Course Government and Politics #11

How Presidents Govern: Crash Course Government and Politics #14

May Executive Orders be Overturned?

All executive orders may be reviewed by the legal system. Congress can pass new laws to override executive orders. These would, of course, be subject to a presidential veto. The Judicial Branch can stop orders from being enforced, and the Supreme Court can decide that certain orders are unconstitutional.



Conclusion

One might assume that the power of the executive was unlimited, but that isn’t true.

The United States is a Republic ruled by Constitutional law, and under the law no power is unlimited. It is checked by the other entities of the Republic and the letter of the law. This system was purposefully created to ensure against the unlimited authority of absolute monarchs.


Citations

  1. What is an Executive Order?
  2. The White House
  3. Executive Orders
  4. What Can’t Presidents Do?
  5. The Use and Abuse of Executive Orders and Other Presidential Directives


"Presidents Can Use Executive Orders to do Whatever They Want" is tagged with: American Politics, Philosophy of Law, United States Armed Forces, United States of America


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