The Powers and Limitations of the Oval Office

Tom Landquist Donald Trump 3 Comments

With the first month of the Trump presidency coming to a close, there has been a lot of confusion surrounding his flurry of declarations, and executive orders. Talking heads on TV and online spout points from each side of the aisle, and most of us are left wondering what normal is supposed to look like, or what to believe. We want to help reduce the cloud of disinformation around this subject, and equip you with some knowledge to help evaluate the news as you hear it. With a strong understanding of the basic rules, it will be easier to combat the sensationalistic headlines we are bombarded with each day.

The first elephant in the room is the back and forth about the speed Trump is signing executive orders. His early flurry is typical of almost all new presidents, and on that front, there is nothing to take note of, unless the rate doesn’t slow down in the future. The second, more pressing and ever present aspect is the legality of the executive orders. To know if Trump has stepped outside of the lines, we must first know what those lines are. The powers of the executive branch under article II of the constitution are the following:

  1. Is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. He or she has the power to call into service the state units of the National Guard, and in times of emergency may be given the power by Congress to manage national security or the economy.has the power make treaties with Senate approval. He or she can also receive ambassadors and work with leaders of other nations.
  2. Is responsible for nominating the heads of governmental departments, which the Senate must then approve. In addition, the president nominates judges to federal courts and justices to the United States Supreme Court.
  3. Can issue executive orders, which have the force of law but do not have to be approved by congress.
  4. Can issue pardons for federal offenses.
  5. Can convene Congress for special sessions.
  6. Can veto legislation approved by Congress. However, the veto is limited. It is not a line-item veto, meaning that he or she cannot veto only specific parts of legislation, and it can be overridden by a two-thirds vote by Congress.
  7. Delivers a State of the Union address annually to a joint session of Congress.

With those powers in mind, what kind of restrictions are there on the presidency? This is where the controversies always arise. With 3 equal branches of government, comes a balancing act of power. The legislative branch has the power to override a presidential veto, has the power to defund government functions, can impeach the president for wrongdoing, and must give approval for appointments or declarations of war.

The judicial branch is currently in the spotlight for their role in the process, known as judicial review. This process allows courts to weigh in on decisions by other branches of government, and in the case of executive orders, gives them the ability to hold them against constitutional standards. If a court deems the order to go against constitutional law, they can essentially kill the order if it is agreed upon by all appeals courts including the Supreme Court. This is what we are seeing in the 9th Circuit Court with president Trump’s immigration order.

What we don’t know, is if the details of each order Trump has signed meet the standards presented in the Constitution. This largely depends on who is interpreting the text of the order, as well as how they view the constitution in each context. What is clear to me however, is that each order Trump has enacted has legal standing under Article II we cited above. The issues seem to have arisen as a result of the orders being drafted carelessly, and without sufficient involvement by the agencies tasked with carrying them out.

If you are a supporter of Trump, know that this judicial process is normal, and that limits to presidential powers plagued the Obama administration in its legislative agenda as well. If you consider yourself anti Trump and are concerned about the future, know that the system is working on providing balance as it always has. Things may not be ideal, but they never have been.

Comments 3

  1. Trumps executive order on immigration is based on his duty to protect the citizens of the U.S.

    Most analysts seem to think it will pass at the supreme court level.

    If the courts can stop a president from keeping out people that he seems a threat to America, then the courts have taken over his job.

    Future presidents will not be able to stop the flow of hostiles into our country.

    In WW2, this power was exercised to minimize spying and sabotage.

    If the courts would have similarly overruled FDR, the war would have become a much bigger nightmare than it actually was.

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