politics

Executive orders: What Donald Trump can and can't do with the stroke of a pen

The first executive orders of new US President Donald Trump have made quite an impact.

Here’s what you need to know about executive orders:

What is an executive order?

In short, an executive order is a way for the US President to get something done without having to go through Congress.

The National Constitution Center says an executive order pretty much has the same power as a federal law and is legally binding.

To understand how they work, you need to know that the US Government is broken into three branches:
Congress (Legislative), who make the laws
The President (Executive), who carries out the laws
The Courts (Judicial), who evaluate the laws

An executive order isn’t the president creating a new law, which is the job of Congress.

Instead, it’s a way for a president to tell federal agencies he controls how to carry out the laws already set by Congress.

For example, telling the Department of Homeland Security to deny people from seven Muslim-majority countries entry into the United States.

Executive orders aren’t specifically mentioned in the United States Constitution, but every single president dating back to George Washington has issued them.

That sounds a lot like creating a law…

And that’s the reason there can be a fair bit of criticism once they’re issued.

If Congress doesn’t like the law, you’ll normally hear complaints that the president has overstepped his authority.

The counter-point you’ll hear from the president is that the order does something Congress won’t or can’t do quickly.

What can you do with an executive order?

Because the mention of “executive power” in the Constitution is broad, an executive order can be used to do a whole bunch of things.

Specific examples include:

President Abraham Lincoln used an executive order to issue the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves in the United States

President Ronald Reagan used one order to ban the use of federal funds for abortion (which President Bill Clinton reversed when he came into office)

More recently, President Obama used one to stop the deportation of young undocumented immigrants who entered the US as children

What can’t you do with an executive order?

While the list of things you can do with an executive order is broad, what you can’t do with one is pretty clear cut.

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The president can’t issue an executive order that would violate an existing law passed by Congress.

The order also can’t be deemed to violate the US Constitution.

Can it be overturned?

Sure can. Just like any piece of legislation, executive orders can be overturned in the courts (the judicial branch we told you about earlier).

Here’s the catch though – hardly any executive orders have been overturned by the courts.

One that was overturned was an order from Bill Clinton that tried to stop the government from contracting organisations that had strike-breakers on their payroll. The court deemed the order conflicted with the National Labor Relations Act, and invalidated it.

A new president can also overrule the executive orders of a previous president, which is the most common way they’re overturned.

Is Trump signing more than usual?

Not really.

According to the Washington Post, Mr Trump signed six executive orders in his first seven days.

By comparison, a newly sworn-in president Obama signed nine executive orders in his first 10 days.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.


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