Five Facts on Executive Orders

With Congress failing to agree yet on a new COVID-19 economic relief package, President Trump recently issued four Executive Orders extending provisions from the previously passed CARES Act. Here are five facts on the substance and constitutionality of the president’s orders.



  1. The president’s executive orders address unemployment checks, payroll taxes, evictions, and student loans.

The orders provide $300 in weekly federal unemployment benefits until December 27, defer the employee portion of payroll taxes until the end of the year, halt evictions, and place a payment moratorium on student loans until the end of the year. They have been met with controversy because of their vague language that may or not be legally binding. For example, states typically pay for unemployment benefits, but due to the pandemic, the federal government started issuing additional $600 weekly checks to unemployment insurance recipients. President Trump’s order originally included $400 in checks, $300 paid for by the federal government and $100 which states were invited but not required to pay. After many states expressed concerns about lack of funds, the Trump administration announced that states could apply their state unemployment benefits to the relief checks, essentially lowering them to $300.

  1. Since taking office, President Trump has issued 180 executive orders.

He has signed around the same number of orders as Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in their first terms, who signed 173 and 200 respectively. By comparison, Barack Obama had only issued 134 in his first term.

  1. Many consequential moments in American history have occurred through executive orders.

For example, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed around 20,000 slaves in certain Confederate states, was an Executive Order. Although it did not directly outlaw slavery, it is generally viewed as a turning point in the Civil War and the abolitionist movement. Other significant orders include President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive order ending racial segregation in the armed forces, Dwight Eisenhower’s 1957 desegregation of public schools, and Franklin Roosevelt’s establishment in 1942 of Japanese internment camps during World War II.

  1. President Trump’s four executive orders are constitutionally controversial.

Several legal scholars have questioned whether President Trump has the constitutional authority to execute these orders. Congress is the branch of government that authorizes the spending of money. However, Trump’s order on unemployment checks reallocates funds from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, an action that is perhaps not legal without congressional authorization.

  1. In the last 85 years only two executive orders have been completely overturned.

Presidents often issue orders that remove past orders, but challenging them is rare and overturning has only happened twice since the 1940s. For an order to be completely overturned it must be deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. This happened in 1952 when President Truman placed all steel mills under federal control to prevent labor strikes and again in 1995 when President Clinton prevented the federal government from having contracts with organizations that hire strikebreakers.


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