Executive Order

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COLUMBIA - President Donald Trump has been facing criticism for some of his early executive orders, as they continue to spark nationwide protests. KOMU 8 News looked deeper into executive orders and why Trump's are so controversial. 

What is an executive order? 

It is a rule issued by the president to a federal agency telling it how to use its time and resources. 

Executive orders have the force of law. However, MU Political Science professor Lael Keiser said they do not supersede laws made by Congress. 

"A president can't tell a federal agency to implement a law that's clearly against a law that's passed by Congress," Keiser said. "Laws that are passed by Congress precede any executive order." 

Executive orders also need to be constitutional, but the president does have a lot of discretion. 

"Laws often times are vague or not completely clear in how they're supposed to be implemented," Keiser said.  "Or they explicitly give the president the power in terms of discretion and how certain things should be delegated." 

What are the checks and balances on presidential executive orders? 

Executive orders can be struck down in two main ways: through Congress and the federal courts. 

Congress can always overrule an executive order by passing a law that would override that executive order. 

"A good example is the issue of torture," Keiser said. "Congress has passed a law banning torture and so a president can't order an agency to engage in enhanced interrogation techniques that are included in the law about torture." 

On the other hand, federal courts can test the constitutionality of an executive order. If a federal court finds part of an executive order unconstitutional, the federal agency it affects can no longer carry out the order.

Why is Trump's travel ban so controversial? 

Trump's executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries has caused protests since its signing. Right now, the order is facing lawsuits in several states. 

Now federal courts have to decide whether the parts of the ban being challenged are unconstitutional. 

The first part of the argument is whether the ban wrongly impedes on the rights of those in the United States guaranteed to them in the Constitution. 

"The Constitution applies to anyone who is on U.S. soil," Keiser said. "So, some of what happened in the implementation of the ban had to do with people who were in U.S. airports and what happened to them; and the Constitution does apply to those people." 

The second part of the argument is whether the executive order violates the anti-discrimination clause of the Constitution. 

"It's not a Muslim ban, but people are worried that that's it's intent," Keiser said. "So, it's up to the courts to decide if this executive order violates existing law on the book, as well as the Constitution."

Another reason for the backlash against the travel ban is because of its hasty implementation.

"I think this one is so controversial because it had immediate effects on identifiable people," Keiser said. "It was right away, where most executive orders that presidents tend to sign, it's not like that day or that hour."

Keiser also said the executive order's far-reaching nature had a lot to do with the strong reaction.

"Its effect on individual people and families I think was just much more visible," Keiser said. "These were big effects, whether or not someone is able to get into the country when they're trying to get back home is something that directly affects people."