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SYN’s Guide to Executive Orders

trump signing

Source: Flickr / Creative Commons


By Maria Dunne

What are Executive Orders?

Executive Orders have garnered worldwide attention recently as President Donald Trump’s actions continue to face scrutiny.

An Executive Order allows the US president to take direct action without the input of congress. However, Executive Orders work upon existing legislation rather than creating addition laws. So, for example, Trump cannot establish an order for every man named Larry eats only ice cream on Tuesdays.

Instead, Trump can direct organisations to interpret laws in certain ways. An example of this is the recent Executive Order he imposed on abortion, which was able to be amended as there was some precedent in federal law on the issue.

Abortion was previously challenged through an Executive Order by Republican president Ronald Reagan in 1981, who banned the use of federal funds for abortion. The Order was reversed by Democratic president Bill Clinton when he took office in 1993, and has since been implemented and reversed by each successive Republican and Democratic president in office.

Unlike Reagan, Trump has created a “global gag rule”, which prohibits all health organisations that receive federal funding overseas from performing or suggesting abortion as a method of family planning.

Executive Order: “Muslim Ban”

Another recent Executive Order established by Trump, dubbed the “Muslim Ban” and aimed at ‘protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States’ imposes a ban on individuals entering the US from seven Muslim dominated countries for 90 days. This links to the Immigration Act already enforced in the US, and has created a worldwide travel ban for people coming from countries such as Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, effecting people from many countries including Australians with dual citizenship.


Around 7,000 protesters gathered in downtown Minneapolis to campaign against Trump’s Executive Order blocking citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Source: Fibonacci Blue / Creative Commons

Can he be stopped?

Although Executive Orders are not a part of the constitution, they are bound to it and other laws. This is how the Executive (President) is challenged and checked by the Judicial Branch (Courts) and Legislative Branch (Congress). However, the orders Trump is decreeing are legally binding at this point. Supporters of Trump’s ‘executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States’ argue this Order abides by the US Constitution’s First Amendment to protect rights to freedom of religion, speech and the press.

In defense of the Order, American legal scholar and George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told Daily Mail UK ‘there’s compelling arguments… supporting the president’. The Order applies to immigrants, and is used when there are visa issues rather than targeting Muslims or applied to refugees. Similarly, the law may be challenged by the congress if they see the President acting “above” his power.

Protesters against President Trump’s immigration policies attempt to enter a terminal at Lambert – St Louis International Airport in Missouri. Source: Kayla Beck / Youtube


Some More Orders

Trump’s been busy, and has in the first few weeks of his Presidency enacted several Executive Orders, including:

  • A Federal hiring freeze: President Trump has told agencies they cannot fill any vacant positions nor open new ones, with two exceptions: military personnel and critical public safety positions.


  • The Trans Pacific Partnership is scrapped: This memorandum withdraws the United States from all Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations and from signing the controversial trade deal.


  • Dakota Access Pipeline: President Trump ordered that permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline be approved in an expedited manner, “including easements or rights-of-way to cross Federal areas”. This is despite ongoing protests aimed at the previous administration at protecting natural land and resources and also protecting land rights of the Standing Rock Sioux, a tribe of about 10,000 with a reservation in the central part of North and South Dakota.


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