What is an Executive Order and What Does it Do?

Jan 29, 2020

For those of you who follow politics, it seems the term “executive order” has been heard often over the last several years. Whether executive orders are authorized by the Constitution and how many executive orders have been issued by a presidential administration are hot topics in today’s political arena. So, what exactly is an executive order?

What is an Executive Order?

An executive order is a presidential directive or action that has “the effect and force of law” (Keesee 210). The executive order is issued unilaterally, meaning that the legislative and judicial branches of government do not participate in the action. The only branch involved is the executive branch. The purpose behind the action is to guide the bureaucracy in enforcing the Constitution or federal laws. An executive order is “directed toward federal government agencies and officials; not towards citizens or the private sector” (Keesee 210). An executive order is a mandate from the president to federal agencies on how to apply or implement a federal law.

Are Executive Orders Authorized by the Constitution?

Executive orders are one of the three special presidential powers granted to the president by the Constitution. These powers are either expressly granted in Article II Section 2 of the Constitution or have been interpreted by the Supreme Court to be inherent powers that are implied in the Constitution under Article II Section 3, which is the “take care” clause, stating that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

The two remaining special powers of the president include emergency powers, which are “broad powers the president can exercise during times of crisis,” and executive privilege, which is “the right of the chief executive and members of the administration to withhold information from courts or congress or the right to refuse to appear before the legislative or judicial bodies” (Harrison et al. 410).

In the event the executive order exceeds the power granted to the president, both Congress and the Federal courts have the authority to “strike down” the executive order (“Executive Orders” 1).

Which Presidents Hold the Record for Issuing the Most Executive Orders?

President Franklin Roosevelt holds the record for the most executive orders with over 3,000 issued over the course of his presidency. Following are Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Theodore Roosevelt with over 1,000 executive orders each. More recent administrations fall within the 260-360 range of executive orders issued (“Executive Orders” 3).

Since the inception of our nation, presidents have issued executive orders to guide those in the bureaucracy on the enforcement of provisions of the Constitution and federal laws. The actions are not directed toward private citizens and are authorized under the Constitution.

Executive Order

Works Cited

Harrison, Brigid C., et al. American Democracy Now. McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

“Executive Orders.” The Heritage Foundation, 1 Jan. 1970, https://www.heritage.org/political-process/heritage-explains/executive-orders.

Keesee, Timothy Dean. American Government. BJU Press, 2014.

“The United States Constitution – The U.S. Constitution Online.” The United States Constitution – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net, https://www.usconstitution.net/xconst.html.

Ann LeBlanc has been practicing law since 1994. She has been an adjunct professor of Business Law, authored legal publications, and presented materials on legal topics of interest to colleagues earning continuing education credits. Ann and her husband live in Texas where they homeschool their own two children and are actively involved in their church community. Ann enjoys Doctor Who, Sherlock, all things Star Trek, Marvel movies, eclectic music, awesome books, contemplative discussions, and dance.