NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Clinton's Executive Orders Stirs Ire Of Congress

August 23, 1999

Leaders of the House and Senate charge that President Clinton has been engaged in unconstitutional lawmaking by issuing one controversial executive order after another. "With a stroke of the pen, he may have done irreparable harm to individual rights and liberties," warns House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) -- adding that Clinton is "running roughshod over our Constitution."

  • Making good on a vow to pick up where Congress leaves off, Clinton has posted 301 formal executive orders since moving into the White House.
  • While federal courts have the power to overturn an executive order, they have done so only twice, historians say -- one a 1995 Clinton order barring federal contractors from hiring striker replacements, and a 1952 order by President Truman seizing steel mills in order to avert a nationwide strike.
  • The Supreme Court has essentially ruled over time that executive orders have the force and effect of law -- but many legal scholars dispute that.
  • In theory, Congress could pass a bill blocking an order, then muster two-thirds majorities in both houses to override a presidential veto -- but Congress has shown no willingness to do so.

During his tenure, Clinton has issued an average of 45.8 executive orders a year. They cannot require any expenditure of money, since Congress controls appropriations. Often they are used to declare national emergencies and 13 such orders remain on the books today -- including an order initiated by President Carter in 1979 concerning the Iran hostages.

Current numbering of orders, now at 13,132, began in 1862 when President Lincoln established a provisional court for Louisiana. The oldest orders still on the books are two issued in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect endangered species.

Source: Frank J. Murray, "Clinton's Executive Orders Still Packing a Punch," Washington Times, August 23, 1999.


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