Monday, June 28, 2010

Explaining Executive Orders

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

On May 21, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing a national commission to examine the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

If you watch the news regularly, you've probably heard the term "Executive Order" (EO) many times. What it means, its purpose, and the source of its authority may be less familiar to you, and especially to your children. What a great opportunity to learn together!

To start with the grammar, the word "executive" comes from the Latin from exequi/exsequi "to follow out," from ex- "out" + sequi "follow". According to ThisNation.com,

Executive Orders (EOs) are legally binding orders given by the President, acting as the head of the Executive Branch, to Federal Administrative Agencies. Executive Orders are generally used to direct federal agencies and officials in their execution of congressionally established laws or policies. However, in many instances they have been used to guide agencies in directions contrary to congressional intent...

Executive Orders do not require Congressional approval to take effect but they have the same legal weight as laws passed by Congress. The President's source of authority to issue Executive Orders can be found in the Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution which grants to the President the "executive Power." Section 3 of Article II further directs the President to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." To implement or execute the laws of the land, Presidents give direction and guidance to Executive Branch agencies and departments, often in the form of Executive Orders.
With your children, read Article II of the U.S. Constitution. Talk about what it means to have "executive Power": the origin of the term, ways it might be interpreted and used properly or improperly, and some historic executive orders (President Eisenhower's EO desegregating schools, the Emancipation Proclamation...).

Then, take a look at recent EOs, and analyze the language used and what it assumes, what it leaves out, and what it implies. (You can find a listing of all presidential Executive Orders from the Federal Register's Executive Orders Disposition Tables, including a subject index for all EOs since Clinton's presidency.)

Finally, find a few articles about the proper use of Executive Orders. Compare the arguments and discuss which side has stronger claims. (For a starting place, see this 1999 Congressional testimony). How would you frame an argument about the proper role of Executive Orders?

Above all, enjoy learning more about the U.S. government with your family!

Between now and July 4th, keep your eyes on my blog for weekly snippets of history and trivia about the workings of the U.S. government.

1 comment:

Tracy Carter said...

Love this, Leigh. I'm reading "Democracy in America" and was talking with my husband yesterday about how wrong it is that I'm learning more about the govt of my country from a frenchman than I ever learned in school.
Looking forward to meeting you at the Circe conference next month!