Joe Biden joins the majority of U.S. presidents who sign sweeping numbers of executive orders to complete their agenda swiftly. Although within their constitutional rights, executive orders are a dangerous form of government, that prioritize the actions of one individual over the power of many.
By Katelyn McCarthy
President Joe Biden, after only three weeks in office, is on his way to making history—the Guinness Book of World Records kind. Already, he has signed more executive orders than each of his predecessors (save FDR) did in their first month as president. Clocking in at 29 thus far, he multiplies President Trump’s 12 by almost 2.5 and comes just shy of doubling President Obama’s.
In line with tradition, most of his orders reverse those signed by his predecessor. Biden has, for example, ended construction of the border wall, reentered the Paris Climate Agreement, and reversed President Trump’s ban on committing American funds to international programs that promote abortion. He has signed orders unrelated to President Trump’s policies, as well, imposing his own travel ban, expanding the census to count non-citizens, and (a personal favorite) “Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking.” I expect that Mr. Biden’s next two executive orders shall recognize the scientific truths that life exists within the womb and that biological sex is immutable. Hopefully they shall be forthcoming.
While some conservatives oppose Biden’s heavy-handed use of the executive order, he is well within his constitutional rights as occupant of the Oval Office to issue as many orders as he pleases. So long as the policy instituted by the orders is under the executive branch’s prerogative (he could not, for example, issue an order declaring war or confirming a Supreme Court Justice), he may enact the agenda of his choice. Though executive orders can be overturned by federal courts and, with some difficulty, overruled by Congress, most remain intact until a new occupant enters the White House.
But Biden’s running start is of less importance than the overall trend in executive orders throughout American history. While outliers exist, the executive order remained in ill use until the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, who signed 48 over the course of his tenure. They continued to increase, burgeoning to 1,081 under Teddy Roosevelt; his cousin claims a whopping 3,721, his yearly average the only of all of the presidents to pass the 300 mark. Perhaps a reaction to FDR’s infatuation with his signature, the executive order entered into a decline, with no president after him holding a yearly average even half of that of his. Since Eisenhower, each president’s yearly average has rested between 35 and 80.
In any case, it is true that considerably more executive orders have been signed in the recent past than they were in America’s early days. Joe Biden, while already racking up a tally, is a symptom, and not the cause, of the trend to solidify and increase the power of the executive branch. Whether this is done to overcome a Congress’s inability to come to an agreement, to promote an agenda that would otherwise likely receive little support, or to respond to hard times, it expresses a dangerous trend against the principle of subsidiarity and distances the voice of the people from their governmental processes. It is an issue partisan only in the sense of the official versus the everyman; it possesses few political preferences.
Seeing as the executive order is so solid as to be made practically of stone, there is little anyone who lacks power, prestige, or a porky pocketbook can do in response to an executive order. But one can certainly hope that President Biden’s—and any president’s—executive orders shall, as Mr. Biden himself stated at a campaign stop in 2019, “choose unity over division...choose science over fiction...choose truth over facts!”
Melanie Moyer '22,