Presidency Key Terms
How the president can circumvent Congress
An order or directive issued by the head of
the executive branch at some level of
U.S. Presidents have issued executive
orders since 1789, usually to help officers
and agencies of the executive branch
manage the operations within the federal
There is no constitutional provision
Though there is a vague grant of
"executive power" given in Article
II, Section 1of the Constitution, and
furthered by the declaration "take Care that
Until the 1950s, there were no rules
or guidelines on how to use them
The Supreme Court ruled in
Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v.
Sawyer (1952) that EO 10340 from
Truman placing all steel mills in the
country under federal control was
invalid because it attempted to
make law, rather than clarify or act
to further a law put forth by the
Congress or the Constitution.
Presidents since this decision have
generally been careful to cite which
specific laws they are acting under
when issuing new executive orders.
One extreme example of an
executive order is EO
9066, where F.D. Roosevelt
delegated military authority to
remove any or all people
(used to target specifically
Japanese Americans and
German Americans) in a
The authority delegated to
General John L. DeWitt
paved the way for all
Japanese-Americans on the
West Coast to be sent to
A signing statement is a written pronouncement
issued by the President of the United States upon
the signing of a bill into law.
Often signing statements merely comment on the bill
signed, saying that it is good legislation or meets
some pressing needs.
The more controversial statements involve claims by
presidents that they believe some part of the
legislation is unconstitutional and therefore they
intend to ignore it or to implement it only in ways
they believe is constitutional
There was controversy over the G.W. Bush’s use of
signing statements, which critics charged was
unusually extensive and modified the meaning of
Until Reagan, only 75 statements had ever been
issued; Reagan and his successors George H. W. Bush
and Bill Clinton produced 247 signing statements
among the three of them. By the end of 2004, George
W. Bush had issued 108 signing statements containing
505 constitutional challenges. As of January
30, 2008, he had signed 157 signing statements
challenging over 1,100 provisions of federal law.
In July 2006, the American Bar Association stated that
the use of signing statements to modify the meaning of
duly enacted laws serves to "undermine the rule of law
and our constitutional system of separation of powers".
Not mentioned in the constitution that he can alter
meaning of law. When a bill is presented to the
President, the constitution provides 3 choices: do
nothing, sign the bill, or (if he disapproves of the bill)
veto it in its entirety and return it to the House in which it
originated, along with his written objections to it.
Some opponents have said that he in effect uses
signing statements as a line-item veto.
The signing statement associated with the
Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, prohibiting
cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of
detainees in U.S. custody attracted controversy:
"The executive branch shall construe... the
Act, relating to detainees, in a manner
consistent with the constitutional authority of the
President to supervise the unitary executive
branch and as Commander in Chief and
consistent with the constitutional limitations on
the judicial power....“
…in other words, “I’ll do what I want”?
An agreement made between the executive branch of
the U.S. government and a foreign government
without ratification by the Senate.
Less formal than a treaty and is not subject to the
constitutional requirement for ratification by two-thirds
of the U.S. Senate.
The Constitution does not specifically give a
president the power to conclude executive
However, he may be authorized to do so by
Congress, or he may do so on the basis of the power
granted him to conduct foreign relations.
Despite questions about the constitutionality of
executive agreements, in 1937 the Supreme Court
ruled that they had the same force as treaties.
Because executive agreements are made on the
authority of the incumbent president, they do not
necessarily bind his successors.
For example, after the outbreak of World War II
but before American entry into the
conflict, President Franklin D. Roosevelt
negotiated an executive agreement that gave the
United Kingdom 50 overage destroyers in
exchange for 99-year leases on certain British
naval bases in the Atlantic.
The use of executive agreements increased
significantly after 1939. Prior to 1940 the U.S.
Senate had ratified 800 treaties and presidents
had made 1,200 executive agreements; from
1940 to 1989, during World War II and the Cold
War, presidents signed nearly 800 treaties but
negotiated more than 13,000 executive
Clinton authorised the Comprehensive Test Ban
agreement with other states in 1999, even
though the treaty had failed to ratified in the
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