By Christina Young
President Trump signed over 45 executive orders during his first month in office. Executive orders are directives from the president which, when not overturned by court, carry the full force of law. This gives the president extraordinary power. Like a White House intern to Bill Clinton said, “Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kinda cool.” However, the idea of this much power in the hands of a dictatorial man is not “kinda cool” to those that disagree with his policies. Let’s answer two questions: is Trump signing more executive orders than his predecessors? And, could Trump turn the presidency into an imperial one that will overshadow the rest of our government?
Executive orders are actually nothing new—President George Washington signed the first executive order in 1793 (he gave the federal government the right to prosecute citizens interfering in the war between France and Britain). Since then, nearly all presidents have signed off their own executive orders. Trump isn’t the first to sign off an extraordinary number of executive orders. Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to sign more than a thousand and Franklin Roosevelt signed a record number of 3,522 executive orders. Even the fact that Trump is signing a lot of executive orders early on in his presidency is normal. Presidents want to follow up on campaign promises and show how different they are from their predecessors—on his very first day as president, Obama signed three executive orders (by the end of his presidency he signed 276).
Checks on the power of executive orders exist although they are used infrequently. One check is the courts, which can declare an executive order unconstitutional, repeal the order, and thereby stop it from being enforced. This is the case with Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven countries, which is currently under consideration by the courts. A second check is Congress, which can write legislation that states specifically how laws should be enacted leaving no wiggle-room for executive orders. This check is inhibited by the fact the president can veto laws and then 2/3 of Congress would need to approve the law in order for it to still be passed. In effect, a 2/3 majority in Congress is required to overturn an executive order. Historically, neither the courts nor congress have regularly chosen to overturn executive orders.
At the end of the day, Trump isn’t the first to sign a large number of executive orders—presidents have done that for over a hundred years. America’s not in terrible danger of its democracy turning to autocracy in the near future. However, it’s equally important to remember that we the people are the ones who stop democracy from turning autocracy. Executive orders give a lot of power to the president and if we don’t like something the president does, we should let our Congress members know. Then our voice will be heard and we will be represented by our government in the way that we want.