Executive Orders and the U.S. Constitution
January 2, 2012



 





There’s a completely absurd rumor out there now that President Obama has issued 15 Executive Orders giving himself the power to take control of all transportation, electrical power, communications media, food, and other national resources. It’s an absolute lie. President John Kennedy issued those order numbers--10990 through 11005--and they have nothing to do with those subjects. But many conservatives delight in criticizing Obama for using any of the many tools at his disposal when doing his job. Executive Orders are a particular favorite.

Once again, the goofballs exploit the public’s civic and political illiteracy to spread their lies. They claim that Executive Orders are unconstitutional, yet they didn’t have that problem with any orders issued by Republican presidents.

Executive Orders are constitutionally valid. Presidents issue the orders to give specific instructions to their employees for doing their jobs. The Constitution’s Article II, Section 1, Clause 1:  The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America gives the president that authority. Each order’s preamble states his specific legal authority for the subject of the order. And every president, except William Henry Harrison, has issued Executive Orders. Governors and mayors also issue Executive Orders to their staffs.

Executive Orders are not laws. Presidents don't make laws. Congress does. The president is the head of the executive branch of government. The executive branch manages the country's daily business through the 15 cabinet departments:

  • Department of State
  • Department of the Treasury
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of the Interior
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Department of Homeland Security


and the six cabinet-level offices:

  • White House Chief of Staff
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Office of Management & Budget
  • United States Trade Representative
  • United States Ambassador to the United Nations
  • Council of Economic Advisers


The orders are numbered consecutively. George Washington issued EO number 1. To date, President Obama has issued 107 Executive Orders, numbered 13489 through 13596. That’s an average of about 309 orders per president. The two most recent, issued on December 19, change the membership of the President’s Export Council and freeze the pay of certain categories of federal employees.

Once issued, the orders are published in the Federal Register, which is a daily record of all executive branch actions. It’s like the government’s daily newspaper. The Federal Register also publishes regulations and announcements. The National Archives collects and stores the orders. 

For more information:
President Obama’s Executive Orders
The National Archives: Executive Orders FAQs
The president’s cabinet 
The Federal Register

The White House: Executive Orders


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Patricia A. O'Malley
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