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CRS – Executive Orders: An Introduction

Executive Orders: An Introduction March 29, 2021: “Executive orders are written instruments through which a President can issue directives toshape policy. Although the U.S. Constitution does not address executive orders and no statute grants the President the general power to issue them, authority to issue such orders is accepted as an inherent aspect of presidential power, though their legal effect depends on various considerations. This report discusses the following:

  • Issuance of Executive Orders. The typical process for issuing an executive order is set forth in an executive order issued by President John F. Kennedy. That process is coordinated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which receives comments and language from impacted and interested agencies. Once OMB and stakeholder agencies have reviewed the draft language, the draft order is sent to the Attorney General and Director of the Office of the Federal Register for review, and then on to the President for signing. After signing, executive orders are generally published in the Federal Register. Not all executive orders go through this process.
  • Authority for Executive Orders. Executive orders typically convey presidential directives intended to have the force and effect of law. To have legal effect, those directives must be issued pursuant to one of the President’s sources of power: either Article II of the Constitution or a delegation of power from Congress. One way that Congress can delegate power to the President is by enacting a statute before the order issues. Congress can also ratify an already-issued executive order by enacting a statute, or can in rare circumstances impliedly ratify an executive order through inaction.
  • Judicial Review of Executive Orders. Courts sometimes review the legality of executive orders. For example, a court may determine whether the President may act at all. In those circumstances, the court will employ a three-part analysis articulated by Justice Robert Jackson in his concurring opinion to the Supreme Court’s decision in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.v. Sawyer. In other cases, a reviewing court may determine the scope of Congress’s delegation of power to the President. To perform that analysis, courts will generally use traditional tools of statutory interpretation. Courts may also be required to determine the scope of the President’s action in the executive order. Courts will begin with the text of the executive order, and may defer to agency interpretations of that order (depending on the circumstances of the particular case). Separately, courts may also review other constitutional issues raised by the executive order (for example, whether the order violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution).
  • Modification and Revocation of Executive Orders. A President may amend, rescind, or revoke a prior executive order issued by his or an earlier Administration. Although executive orders can be flexible and powerful, they can also be impermanent because a later President can, generally,revoke or modify any previously issued executive order with which he disagrees. Similarly, Congress may nullify the legal effect of an executive order issued pursuant to power that it delegated to the President…”

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