Why Do We Have Executive Orders?

What Are Executive Orders? Are They Laws?

(LibertySociety.com) – As part of his duties, the President of the United States (POTUS) is, in essence, the CEO of the executive branch of the government. Instead of having a human resources or IT department under him, he is tasked with managing entities like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Treasury Department. Executive orders are just one tool in his arsenal.


Presidents use executive orders (EOs) to direct the various department secretaries (ie – the Cabinet) on how they want particular situations dealt with. However, neither the Constitution nor any federal statute specifically authorizes their use.

Logic dictates that some means of communicating the president’s desires on how to run the massive bureaucracy must exist, and this is one vehicle used to accomplish that. This is not an unfettered power. It can neither be used as a shortcut around the balance of powers nor to direct someone to perform a blatantly illegal act.

The judicial branch of the government — which typically ends up being the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) — can and has used its power to review executive orders. In 1952, President Harry Truman directed the Secretary of Commerce to take over all the steel mills in the country. The top court ruled that nothing in the law or the Constitution allowed for this action.

Directives Not Laws

The Constitution describes the method for an order to become law. In short, a bill must be passed by both the House of Representatives and Senate and either be signed by the POTUS or the legislative branch must manage to override a veto. EOs are documents that are recorded for posterity’s sake that give guidance to one or more departments on how to execute the laws.

While EOs are not laws, they may have the effect of a law because they directly impact how laws are enforced. One major difference is that the sitting president can issue an EO that supersedes or cancels EOs of a prior administration.

In the end, each president uses these documents to guide the country according to his political ideology. Confusion may ensue when there is a massive shift in ideologies between administrations as there was when the Conservative President Donald Trump took over from the Liberal President Barack Obama.

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