Constitution Daily

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Executive orders: How past presidents used them

January 16, 2013 by NCC Staff


On Wednesday, President Barack Obama issued 23 executive orders as part of his anti-gun-violence program. But what’s an executive order--and can Congress override one?

According to, the federal government’s official portal, “presidents use executive orders to direct and manage how the federal government operates.”

The order is a directive from the president that has the same power of a federal law. And like a federal law, Congress can pass a new law to override an executive order, subject to a presidential veto.

With the Democrats controlling the Senate, the probability of a successful veto would make congressional action on the 23 executive orders difficult at best. The Supreme Court can also overrule an order in the same way it would find a law unconstitutional.

Some Republicans in Congress and state leaders were upset at the extent of the president’s orders on Wednesday.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said he would reject any executive order that would impede gun owners’ rights.

“I am asking that you immediately pass legislation that would make any unconstitutional order by the president illegal to enforce in Mississippi by state or local law enforcement,” he said.

Oklahoma Representative Jim Bridenstine told a local radio station it was the executive orders that would potentially expand data in the background check system that upset him.

“He should go through the U.S. Congress” Bridenstine said. “That’s the will of the people, that’s the people’s house, but instead he’s running roughshod over the U.S. Congress, which is not good.”

Another hot-button issue is additional funding for the Centers for Disease Control to study gun violence.

Link: List of Obama executive orders on guns

National Review has a brief overview of the history of executive orders from former U.S. attorney Scott Cofina, showing a few examples of some pretty big executive orders issued by presidents.

“President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War; President Roosevelt established internment camps during World War II; and President Truman mandated equal treatment of all members of the armed forces — all through executive orders," he says , pointing to a president’s ability to use executive orders during times of national crisis.

Other famous executive orders included the creation of the Works Progress Administration by President Franklin Roosevelt and two executive orders that made up President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

It was Roosevelt who issued the most executive orders, according to records at the National Archives.

He issued 3,728 orders between 1933 and 1945, as the country dealt with the Great Depression and World War II.

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President Obama has issued 167 orders so far in his first term. His predecessor, President George W. Bush, issued 291 orders over eight years, while President Bill Clinton had 364 executive orders during his two terms in office.

President Harry S. Truman issued a robust 896 executive orders, including one that was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1952.

The court ruled in Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer that an order putting steel mills under federal control during a strike was invalid.

“The President's power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker,” the court said in its majority opinion.


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