Political Science 101: Checking Into Executive Order Checks & Balances


President Donald Trump has started his new administration with a flourish of signatures that will affect millions of Americans. Yet, critics say Trump is overstepping his authority by signing so many executive orders. It was also a complaint lodged against former President Obama when he was in office.  

President Trump isn’t creating a new law each time he signs an executive order – but it’s pretty darn close.

“An executive order does carry the weight of law even though we don’t necessarily think of that being law. We tend to just think of an act of Congress being law,” SDSU political science professor Lisa Hager said.

The backlash over Trump’s controversial travel ban executive order has wound up in the courts. SDSU political science professor Lisa Hager says the legal system provides opponents with the most leverage in fighting executive orders.

“So they’re challenged by whether or not they’re constitutional or not.  So then the Supreme Court can come in and serve as that check on executive power,” Hager said.

Congress, it turns out, doesn’t have all that much influence in changing an executive order.  Let’s say lawmakers do pass a bill to overturn an order – Well, it’s not very likely President Trump will sign the bill into law and undo his own executive order.

“It’s great that Congress sometimes wants to act on behalf of their constituents.  But sometimes they’re really stymied by the fact that it has to go before that person who did in fact sign that executive order,” Hager said.

Hager doubts there would be enough votes in Congress to overturn a Trump veto.  Trump says he’s only following through on campaign promises when he signs the executive orders. So, whether any of them constitute an executive overreach will be up to the courts to decide.

The only other way to undo an executive order is when a new president takes office. But then Trump isn’t up for re-election until 2020.

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