In the wake of emotion following the shock of Sandy Hook, this coming Tuesday, a Washington group led by VP Joe Biden plans to place on the desk of the President their recommendations regarding increased gun control and safety. Foreshadowing their report, Biden publicly remarked that while multiple options remain, “The President is going to act. There are executives orders — executive action that can be taken.”
U.S. presidents have been taking “executive action” for over 200 years. While these orders are not legislation, they still are accompanied by full force of law. The reality is there is no specific constitutional provision for the decrees, but there exists a vague granting of executive power in Article II. The idea is that presidents issue executive orders in order to assist in operational management of federal agencies or to carry out what they perceive as their unequivocal, “constitutional responsibilities.” That’s what the orders are supposed to do; however, through the years — as for some reason seems typical in contemporary culture — we have digressed…
Initially, executive orders were issued for such as the following:
- On December 25, 1868, Pres. Andrew Johnson pardoned “all and every person who directly or indirectly participated in the late insurrection or rebellion” related to the Civil War (the “Christmas Proclamation”).
- In 1861, Pres. Abraham Lincoln used presidential directives to run the early months of the Civil War. Within his first two months in office, Lincoln issued a proclamation activating troops to defeat the Southern rebellion; he also issued proclamations to procure warships and to expand the size of the military.
- After World War II began, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the interment of Japanese-Americans — thinking they may be a threat — thereby impacting more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans, even though many were U.S. citizens. Note: it is widely believed that in FDR’s clear growth of government, expansion of the extent of executive orders was also his practice.
Via executive order, Teddy Roosevelt protected 130 million acres of land and created 5 national parks. Pres. Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. Executive orders have been arbitrarily and subjectively utilized, all via one man’s discretion… albeit one very powerful man.
Don’t let me also act as if all of the above was deemed categorically constitutional; much, in fact — even then — was controversial. Conventional wisdom tells us that Lincoln’s actions were most likely unconstitutional, and the purported cruelty of Roosevelt’s executive orders has been debated for decades.
Still, as alluded to, through the years, executive orders have digressed; they have become seemingly more arbitrary and albeit, more political. Such as…
- In reaction to 9/11, Pres. George W. Bush created the Dept. of Homeland Security.
- On March 16, 2012, Pres. Obama gave the White House absolute control over all the country’s natural resources in case of a natural disaster or during a time of war.
There is more.
Friends, herein lies the challenge…
If you are a supporter of Pres. Obama, the probability is that you wholeheartedly support his executive orders. If you were a supporter of Pres. Bush 43, you most likely supported his decrees. The challenge is that wisdom must be adhered to regardless of who is president. For example, should any president decide he or she has the discernment skills to dictate the approach to the economy — meaning proceed via executive order — such would scare me. For example, as much as I respect Pres. Obama, his economic background, in my opinion, is strikingly minimal. Hence, should he enact any executive order affecting our economic future, the Intramuralist would question the inherent wisdom.
Gun control? Gun control? Did VP Biden misspeak once again? Or is it totally ok to bypass Congress and simply dictate one’s opinion, assuming it is wisest and best? Is it ok to bypass bipartisan debate? Is it wise? Or is it arrogant?
Great questions. Guess we’ll see on Tuesday.