History of Executive Orders
While it appears that a president illegally bypasses Congress when these orders are issued, Executive Orders have been in use since George Washington was president and many significant changes have been brought about by use of such orders. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation by executive order and Eisenhower issued another to force schools to desegregate.
The use of executive orders are well entrenched despite the fact they are constantly by the party not in power for allowing a president to usurp the role of Congress.
The issuance of executive orders have increased in recent years. During their eight year terms in office, Bill Clinton issued 398 orders while George W. Bush signed 287. Obama now has signed in excess of 160 of these orders and is on the way to at least equal the number signed by Bush.
Obama’s executive orders have encompassed various topics, from gun control to stopping the deportation of illegal aliens, to authorizing drone strikes.
When the president’s party holds both the House and the Senate, executive orders do not pose a problem, and we can view them as a more efficient way of getting things done. But when this is not the case, as in the current situation, the president’s signing of an executive order is often looked upon as simply a way to dispense with Congress.
Republicans accuse Obama of implementing laws and programs, especially regarding gun control and immigration that could never pass in the Republican-held House. But, if the president does exceed his authority, there are remedies that U.S. Citizens can seek.
If an Executive Order Exceeds the President’s Authority
As stated above, the purpose of executive orders are to provide guidelines to federal boards and agencies that enforce the laws passed by Congress. If a party feels the executive order crosses over the line into enacting legislation that falls under the jurisdiction of Congress, citizens can commence a lawsuit, arguing the president exceeded his authority.
For example, shortly after World War II, Harry Truman signed an executive order that authorized the government to seize steel mills. Truman seized the mills because a labor dispute was hampering production.
The Supreme Court of the United States held this seizure was illegal. Nothing in the Constitution or any other law empowered the president to seize private property for the purpose of settling a labor dispute.
A second remedy that is available is for Congress to pass a law to clarify or change the order. The problem with this is that the president would probably veto such legislation, and a two-thirds majority would be necessary to override the veto.
Executive Orders in the U.S.: Legal and Here to Stay
Since the use of executive orders has been around since the time of Washington, and their use has increased during the past few presidencies, it is unlikely that politicians of either party will cut back anytime soon.
The White House. FACT SHEET: New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence. (2013). Accessed September 5, 2013.
This Nation. What is an Executive Order? (2013). Accessed September 5, 2013.
Office of the Federal Register. Executive Orders. (2013). Accessed September 5, 2013.
UPI. Report: Obama issued 149 orders so far. (2013). Accessed September 5, 2013.
Decoding Science. One article at a time.