(PatriotWise.com) – Every President in the history of America has signed at least one executive order during their time in office. The exact number they issue per year, however, varies widely. Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson each drafted hundreds per year in response to the Great Depression, while Presidents Trump, Bush, and Ford issued them at a far slower rate. But statistics do little to tell us about what this important document really is or what kind of power it provides. Here’s the full story.
Executive Orders Defined
An executive order (EO) is a legal directive signed and issued by the President of the United States. Its main purpose is to issue instructions or policy changes to the executive branch.
Unlike most new laws and budget changes, EOs do not need to be approved in Congress before they become active. Instead, they are considered legally binding from the very moment the President adds his signature. This effectively supersedes the usual red tape associated with governmental shifts.
Only the President and the Supreme Court have the right to overturn an executive order. The President can issue a new executive order ending a previous order at any time. The Supreme Court only gains the right to step in if and when they declare an order unconstitutional. However, Congress can interfere with directives in other indirect ways, such as refusing to approve necessary funding. They can also pass new legislation that renders an EO invalid, although this is rare.
Contents of an Executive Order
The exact contents of an executive order depends on the nature of the directive the President intends to issue. Furthermore, the exact style tends to evolve over time and between publishing bodies (e.g., the White House or the Federal Registrar). The American Bar states that all five of these components must be present for the order to be considered complete:
- Header with identifying information. EOs must contain a section with the order number; this is provided by the Federal Registrar and is typically consecutive. The header must also contain the date the order became active.
- Title describing the directive. EOs must contain a title that descriptively clarifies the directive within the document itself. Example: Protecting Vulnerable Newborn and Infant Children.
- Preamble legitimizing the President’s right to issue the order. The initial introduction should clarify the fact that the president has the right to issue the order. It should also further clarify the directive and may be written in “legalese” to ensure accuracy. It is often drafted in first-person.
- Body with additional info. The body of an executive order is broken up into several sections, each specifically labeled for the information it provides. They often contain actionable steps, a list of involved parties, legal definitions, relevant laws, and other clarifying details.
- Authorization line. Most executive orders also contain a final passage authorizing the Federal Registrar to publish the order (a necessary part of the EO process). They may also add a disclaimer about the nature of orders and what kind of powers they provide.
Lastly, the President must sign the order, and the “White House” notation must be affixed. These are perhaps the most important elements, as, without them, the order cannot be considered active.
Why an Executive Order?
Executive orders skip the usual process for legislative changes. In fact, they are not considered legislation; instead, they exist as their own regulatory power option. The fact that they are so difficult to challenge unless they violate the Constitution, is part of why they are so useful. It may allow the commander-in-chief to push through changes in the event of an emergency, such as a pandemic, a national disaster, terrorist attack, or civil war, when rapid response matters.
Unfortunately, the fact that EOs skip the usual legislative process can make them somewhat controversial. While most presidents use them judiciously, critics feel that the issuance of too many orders may be an indicator of abuse of power. Still, there have been times in the past when the President’s use of an executive order was necessary to protect and support the people.
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