From what I understand, the President can write executive orders telling people to do things. Wikipedia tells me that these executive orders "have the full force of law".

If this is the case, why does he even bother with pushing legislation through congress? Why not just write all his whims and desires into law via executive order?

How do executive orders differ from regularly legislated law?

  • 2
    Just because they have the full force of law doesn't mean that the President can issue whatever executive order he wants to and have it still be constitutional.
    – Publius
    Jul 30, 2013 at 22:49
  • I didn't quite see that when I skimmed the Wikipedia article, but if it says that, Wikipedia is incorrect. Executive orders only have force of law for executive branch agencies or other situations in which Congress has given executive orders legal significance by statute (and even that may not be quite constitutional). Aug 27, 2013 at 4:13

3 Answers 3


Executive orders are not permanent, they exist at the will of the president and can be changed at any time. Partisan orders would be canceled when an opposing party president takes office, making them much less useful for permanent policy changes than signed laws from congress. The supreme court has also ruled that is has jurisdiction over any order issued and has struck some down, notably this case which set the precedent that attempting to create law with an order is unconstitutional. They exist because the president and the executive branch is responsible for enforcing the laws of the land and are given some leeway in how to enforce said laws, they have the full force of law because they are issued by the people enforcing the law. Executive orders in modern times are supposed to justified by existing law and essentially be a clarification or explanation on how a particular law or set of laws will be enforced, though there are many examples of orders going beyond this limit.

  • @DJClayworth, that's true, but sort of a technicality. The point is that each new President can completely change the executive orders of the last one, and has no significant bureaucratic hurdles (i.e. Congress) to do so. So, if an executive order persists across Presidencies, it's because the new President endorses (either implicitly or explicitly) the order. I agree the wording in the answer could be clearer.
    – Nate
    Aug 1, 2013 at 21:39
  • @DJClayworth My edit should clear up what I meant.
    – Ryathal
    Aug 2, 2013 at 12:57
  • Are these "executive orders" equivalent to the "ordinances" issued by the Executive in a Parliamentary system?
    – sfxedit
    Apr 12, 2023 at 7:01

Congress tends to pass bills with language explicitly giving the president discretion over certain matters.

Here's an example from the Text of the National Defence Authorization act of 2014

‘Sec. 2631b. Supplies: preference to United States aircraft

‘(a) Preference- Only aircraft owned by the United States, or aircraft operated by or under the supervision of United States air carriers holding a certificate under section 41102 of title 49 and registered in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, may be used for the transportation by air of supplies on behalf of any component of the Department of Defense. However, if the President finds that the rates charged for the use of those aircraft is excessive or otherwise unreasonable, contracts for transportation may be made as otherwise provided by law. Charges made for the transportation of those supplies by those aircraft may not be higher than the charges made for transporting like goods for private persons.



Executive orders are abused by lame duck presidents and those without support in Congress. There is nothing preventing the next president from reversing every executive order the previous occupant ever wrote while the outgoing occupant prays that the judges he appointed won't flip. I view it more as symbolic political gamesmanship than a serious governing tool.

  • 2
    So only lame duck presidents use executive orders? And how often do presidents actually reverse every executive order the previous president made?
    – Cory Klein
    Nov 27, 2015 at 22:43

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