Executive Orders


flickr photo by Scott Ableman

Interest in executive orders has risen over the past few weeks in light of President Obama’s move to use an executive order to grant around 5 million undocumented immigrants relief from deportation (CNN).

Black’s Law Dictionary defines an executive order as “An order issued by or on behalf of the President, intended to direct or instruct the actions of executive agencies or government officials, or to set policies for the executive branch to follow” (9th Edition). Vivian Chu and Todd Garvey note in their Congressional Research Service Report, Executive Orders: Issuance, Modification, and Revocation, that executive orders are one of various instruments, including presidential memoranda and presidential proclamations, that the President can use to implement policy (CRS Report RS20846, Page 1).

Chu and Garvey explain in their report that “executive orders are generally directed to, and govern actions by, Government officials and agencies” (CRS Report RS20846, Page 1). Furthermore, executive orders generally only have an indirect effect on private individuals (CRS Report RS20846, Page 1).

For more information on the authority of the President to issue executive orders, limitations, and revocation and modification of executive orders, read Chu and Gravey’s CRS Report.

You can locate executive orders for online using the following resources:

  • Whitehouse.gov: The current administration’s executive orders.
  • National Archives: Executive orders from 1937 (Franklin D. Roosevelt) – Present (Barack Obama).


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