Many advocates know the anguish of waiting for congressional bills to be approved that actually make a difference for others. Only a small fraction of these bills is actually made into a law, and for some these approved bills are not strong enough. This is why many advocates call for executive orders.
For those not familiar with executive orders, the following events happened because of a president’s executive order: desegregation within the military, authorization for the military to confine Japanese and German Americans to guarded camps, and desegregation of public schools.
The desegregation of the military is the one such reason why advocates fight for an executive order to make drastic changes where Congress may fail.
On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which not only desegregated the military but established the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity. While this executive order itself is daunting enough, it is important to understand that President Truman was raised in an environment that vilified abolitionism, Reconstruction, and Abraham Lincoln.
What brought Truman to action was learning of a number of African American World War II veterans who were beaten and murdered as they were just returning home. So, when Truman requested advisement on completing desegregation, his military officials recommended a five-year plan. But what Truman did was give the military six months to complete the executive order.
Article II of the U.S. Constitution outlines the duties, powers, and limitations of the Executive Branch. Within this article, the power of executive orders is detailed, that it has the force of law that does not require a congressional approval.
It may seem like the power of executive orders sounds absolute, but it can be limited by Congress and the Supreme Court with the Constitution’s inclusion of checks and balances. Another reason why the President has the power of executive orders over the military is because he is also the Commander-in-Chief. The most modern example of this power is President George W. Bush’s executive order to create the Department of Homeland Security, and most recently President Donald Trump’s executive order to create the Space Force.
It is important to understand this type of power so that more people can push for the use of it. President Joe Biden has vocalized support of many things that could help service members and veterans, such as linking burn pits to various cancers like his son’s brain cancer, and removing sexual harassment and assault cases from chain of command.
What the advocates argue is that if a president can create an entire department by use of an executive order, one can certainly create laws within these existing departments using executive order.