From the start: What is an executive order? And who issues them?

Executive orders come solely from the President of the United States of America and are concerned with matters regarding the matter of governance. While they reflect the will of the president, they are still subject to judicial review.

Presidential orders are used in both banal and extreme cases, from internal governmental affairs to war and geopolitical emergencies. Most recent notable executive orders are those that released billions of dollars in stimulus funds for coronavirus relief made by both presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

What is an executive order?

Executive orders are directives from the president for the governing of the USA, often used to influence government internal affairs and to decide on how legislation is enforced, as well as for fine-tuning policy details. They are also used for dealing with events of emergency status and war.

Some landmark directives such as the Neutrality Proclamation and Emancipation Proclamation are often misunderstood to be executive orders. Although presidents have issued orders on all governing matters since the role began, numbered executive orders as we recognize them now only began in 1907.

The Constitution doesn’t officially include mention of executive orders. Its power of the executive order comes from Article II of the Constitution. Article II states: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America’, and that the President “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

Who issues them?

They can only be issued by the current President of the United States. This title reflects a merging of three other positions: both the head of state and head of government of the United States of America, and Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, which is why the president also has control of the armed forces.

The Office of the Federal Register sequences and records the original executive order from the president, before printing the order daily in the Federal Register. Executive orders since 1994 are available for anyone to access and read online on the Office of the Federal Register website.

While only current presidents can issue an executive order, they can amend or revoke executive orders from previous presidents also. It is common for presidents to do this on their first day in office, with the exception of William Henry Harrison in 1841 who issued no executive orders during his 31 days in office.

In this most recent administration, Biden issued 46 executive orders on his first day as president. Several of these worked directly to reverse those made by his predecessor, including the construction of the USA-Mexico border wall and the so-called ‘Muslim ban’. Other orders issued by Biden on his first day focused on overcoming challenges related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and climate crisis.

Executive orders are the documents that keep the US government running in line with the president’s will, and looking back the history of executive orders we see a record for the growth and development of the US nation. In times of political or social turmoil especially, it can be heartening to view the history of executive orders as a clear demonstration of how hard times can be the impetus needed to generate lasting change.