O-Pinion

Guess which president has fewest executive orders of the past 130 years?

President Barack Obama tears up as he speaks about the Newtown shooting victims during a statement in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama tears up as he speaks about the Newtown shooting victims during a statement in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Tuesday. NYT

Rep. Robert Pittenger suggests President Obama overstepped his authority when he issued an executive order on guns this week.

“His initiatives are out of line,” Pittenger said. “Legislation is passed by Congress. It’s not passed by monarch.”

Most Americans, we expect, have reservations about a president who goes around Congress (including the Observer editorial board). If Pittenger and other Republicans believe Obama has exceeded his authority, though, they need to base that on the opinion that this particular executive order goes too far, not that presidents are powerless to influence law with executive orders. They do so all the time, and Observer Associate Editor Peter St. Onge wrote Wednesday that most legal experts believe Obama is on safe legal ground with this week’s gun control order.

Presidents use executive orders to help them fulfill their constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” They must be supported by the Constitution or by a law passed by Congress, and that’s where the gray legal area can exist.

But executive orders are a legal and long-standing feature of the American governmental system.

From Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency through Obama’s, presidents have averaged 118 executive orders per year (or more than two per week!). Obama’s average of 32.8 per year (as of last month) is the lowest of any president since Grover Cleveland’s first term in the 1880s. This chart, from fivethirtyeight.com last year, shows how often each president has used executive orders.

 

Pittenger and other Republicans make a separate puzzling argument. They claim that Obama’s gun control order will “trample the rights of law-abiding citizens” (as Rep. Richard Hudson said). But they also argue that they are meaningless and will have “zero impact,” as Pittenger described Obama’s executive actions after the massacre in Newtown, Conn.

Which is it? Obama’s orders are meaningless, or they are trampling people’s rights? They can’t be both. – Taylor Batten

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