EXECUTIVE ORDERS V. EXECUTIVE ACTIONS
By Susan Lagon, Senior Fellow
Article II of the Constitution begins, “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” The extent of that “executive power” has been debated since the beginning of the republic—indeed, even earlier. The Founders were familiar with John Locke’s concept of “executive prerogative” (that certain circumstances call for the Chief Executive to act swiftly, subject to the eventual approval of the legislature) but the term is conspicuously absent from the Constitution.
With few exceptions, all U.S. presidents have exercised some form of prerogative. President Obama’s recent Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (suspending deportations of undocumented minors) is but one example. Presidential directives can take several forms but they are not interchangeable. The Executive Order is a familiar tool presidents use to act in the absence of legislation. It can’t replace or contravene statutes enacted by Congress, it can only “fill in the gaps.” In 1942, FDR issued an infamous one that allowed the internment of American citizens of certain nationalities in camps during WWII; Eisenhower famously used one to desegregate public schools in 1957; JFK used one to create the Peace Corps in 1961; and Obama just used one to set up a task force on policing in the 21st century. Here is the rest of the article.