What are Executive Orders?

President Obama’s proposals to use executive orders to deal with gun violence and climate change has lead to complaints about abuse of executive power. Legal Lad examines the use and abuse of executive orders.

Adam Freedman
3-minute read

President Obama’s “Executive Actions”

Which brings us to the most recent debate. In January 2013, President Obama unveiled a slate of proposals aimed at reducing gun violence – the proposals emerged from a month-long study initiated after the Newtown shooting tragedy. Gun control is always a controversial topic, as I discussed in an earlier episode entitled, Who Can Own a Gun?, but in this case, the president seeks to achieve many of his goals through a list of 23 “executive actions,” many of which are executive orders.  

Although many of the proposed actions were vaguely-worded, some of them arguably deal with policy matters within Congress’s domain, such as the scope of federal background checks for firearm purchases. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky proposed legislation to nullify the president’s executive actions, citing separation-of-powers concerns. One member of the House of Representatives even suggested that he might initiate impeachment proceedings against the president, but he later dropped that idea. I should mention that this isn’t the first time this has happened. During the presidency of George W. Bush, very-similar allegations were made about the president abusing his powers through executive orders.

Just a few weeks after the gun proposals, President Obama proposed additional executive orders in his State of the Union address, particularly in the area of climate change. Here again, the president’s remarks provoked controversy because climate change is seen as a legislative, rather than executive matter. Indeed, the President called on Congress to take action on environmental and energy matters, but then declared tha, if Congress fails to act, he would start issuing executive orders. If that’s the way things play out, you can be sure that congressional resolutions will start flying, with complaints about the president usurping legislative power.    

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