Executive Orders - Inquiry Model

The Big Question

I thought only congress could make laws, but President Trump has used executive authority to direct the federal government's policy in many different areas including immigration and regulations on the environment. And he's not the first president to use executive orders. President Obama, before him, issued executive orders regarding stem cell research, immigration, accelerating investment in energy efficiency, restoring ecosystems in the gulf coast, and authorizing sanctions on Iran, just to name a few. And just about every recent president before him did the same thing! How can it be legal for the President to make rules and decisions using executive orders?

Data & Sources

Executive order-A rule or regulation issued by the president that has the effect of law.

(1) Enforce legislative statutes

(2) Enforce the Constitution or treaties with foreign nations

(3) Establish or modify rules and practices of executive administrative agencies

Can be retracted by successor, nullified by Congress or ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.

Presidents have issued over 13,698 of them.

And here's a wicked little chart of the entire history of Executive Orders.

And here's another way of looking at it.

Here's a photograph of our 45th president, Donald J. Trump, signing an executive order on his first day in office, January 20, 2017.

Within hours of taking the oath of office, President Donald Trump on Friday night signed an executive order aimed at trying to fulfill one of his most impassioned campaign promises: Rolling back Obamacare.

And here's a photograph of our 44th president on his second full day in office, January 22, 2009, signing Executive Order 13492 to close Guantanamo Bay.

The guy's a real lefty!

If you haven't gotten enough, you can click on this link to learn more about executive orders. And here's a funky fresh video about executive orders.

And finally, you can read this fascinating article in Ars Technica about Ronald Reagan's Executive Order twelve triple three that led to mass spying, and whether an executive order can legally override a law.

Questions & Activities

Now that you know so much about executive orders it's time you started answering some questions

  1. What is an Executive Order?

  2. What president has made the most Executive orders ever?

  3. Does one party tend to make more executive orders than another?

  4. What is the difference between a law and an executive order?

  5. Are executive orders legal?

  6. How are executive orders different from laws?

  7. Why do presidents make executive orders, anyway?

  8. Write your own question about executive orders:


Now it's time to look at an actual executive order. Read any one of Donald J. Trump's executive orders or if you're feeling nostalgic, one of Barack Obama's executive orders and then fill in the chart below about it:


What is the purpose of this specific order?



What is your opinion of this order?


Make a caption for the following photograph:

For example: "Hey, Joe Biden, let's do something totally unconstitutional and make an executive order about Iranian sanctions." or "Joe Biden, you're not a soccer player in a wall in front of a free kick. At ease, soldier!"

You can share your caption in the comments section below!

Analogy time

Fill in the blanks. Here's how an analogy works.

Dogs are to Animals = Dogs : Animals

Now try this

Executive Orders : Laws


____________________ : _________________________


Try this

President : Executive Orders


____________________ : __________________________


And try this

Executive Orders : Government


____________________ : __________________________


Now let's get creative and try some metaphors:

If an executive order were an animal it would be a(n): ____________________________

If an executive order were a celebrity it would be : ____________________________

Now make your own

If an executive order were a _________________ it would be a(n): ____________________________

Venn Diagram time!

Fill in at least three items in each of the portions of the diagram below.

Informed Civic Action

Congratulations! You are the president. Write an executive order in the official language of an executive order. Use your copy of Obama’s Executive Order as an example of the official language of an Executive order.

Here's some examples of E.O.s from some of my students.

President Angela Presto
Executive Order 12345 of January 30, 2013 Expanding National Forest Lines/Boundaries By the power invested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America I hereby declare that all national forests in the United States have their boundaries expanded for the preservation of nature and land for future generations. Section 1. Policy. National forests are essential in the preservation of nature and land. They are safe homes/habitats four numerous wildlife as well. Without national forests there would be larger quantities of deforestation and a loss of species, land, and nature. Expanding these boundaries can help to improve the preservation of land, nature, and wildlife by giving a larger region for the wildlife to grow and expand as well as preserving it for our future generations. Section 2. Expanding National Forest Lines/Boundaries. (a) In order to ensure a consistent approach in expanding national forest boundaries there will be a National Forest Boundary Group established. This group will be co-chaired by representatives designated by the Administrator of General Services. (b) the National Forest Boundary Group shall be composed of: (i) a representative from each of the following agencies, and the Co-Chairs, who all have ownership/responsibility for managing and expanding national forest boundaries. (1)the Department of Agriculture (2)the Department of Natural Resources (3)the Department of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry (4)the Department of Energy and Natural Resources (c) Within 1 year of the date of this order, The National Forest Boundary Group will report to the Steering Committees on the improvements to be made and the progress being made. Section 3. Coordinating Consistent and Efficient Expanding of National Forest Lines/Boundaries Requirements and Policies. (a) Each National Forest Boundary member shall: (i)develop and implement a strategy to facilitate the timely and efficient way of expanding national forest boundaries that: (1)ensures a consistent approach to expanding national forest boundaries by: providing clear notice of how much the boundaries will be expanded, review of the process, and when the boundaries will be expanded. (b) The Co-Chairs, in consultation with the Director, will coordinate, review, and monitor the expansion Of the national forest boundaries. Section 4. Contracts, Applications, and Permits. (a) The National Forest Boundary Group will work to develop and use one or more templates for permit terms to expand national forest boundaries. These templates will allow for the national forests to be expanded safely and justly. Section 5. General Provision. (a) This order will be set into motion while being consistent with all applicable laws, treaties, and trust obligations, and subject to the availability of appropriations. (b) Nothing in this order will impair (i) the authority granted by law to an executive department, agency or the head. (c) independent agencies are encouraged to comply/cooperate with this order. (d) this order is not intended to create a benefit or right enforceable by law or by any party against the United States and its departments, agencies, officers, employees, agents, or any other person. THE WHITE HOUSE, Washington, January 30, 2013.

President Carlie Herron
Executive Order 13547 of March 3, 2010
Reducing Carbon Emissions
By the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, in order to reduce carbon emissions, to set a positive, environmentally friendly example for the United States as a whole, to spread awareness of the need for action against climate change, to improve the state of our environment, and to ensure a cleaner and safer future for the United States, I hereby order as follows:
Section 1. All members of executive departments, independent agencies, and Government corporations, shall trade in any personal automobile which yields fewer than 40 miles per gallon. The vehicle must then be replaced with a fuel-efficient automobile which yields 40 or more miles per gallon.
Section 2. Government funds will be appropriated in order to pay for any discrepancy between the trade-in value of each individual’s obsolete vehicle and the price of a new, fuel-efficient automobile. Government funds will also be provided for any individual to pay off the remainder of a leased vehicle, if necessary.
Section 3. Each member has six months (until September 3, 2010) to trade in their vehicle, if necessary.
Section 4. Any individual who fails to comply with the standards outlined in Sections 1-3 will be charged a fine of $2,000 for each month which passes after September 3, 2010.
March 3, 2010.

Now make your own E.O. and send that bad boy to the president. here's how

Here are a few simple things you can do to make sure your message gets to the White House as quickly as possible.

  1. If possible, email us from your computer at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact. This is the fastest way to get your message to President Obama.
  2. If you write a letter, please consider typing it on an 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet of paper. If you hand-write your letter, please consider using pen and writing as neatly as possible
  3. Please include your return address on your letter as well as your envelope. If you have an email address, please consider including that as well.
  4. And finally, be sure to include the full address of the White House to make sure your message gets to us as quickly and directly as possible:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Bonus Learning

SNL version of School House Rock - I'm just an Executive Order

Like this lesson? There's a whole lot more great lessons, graphic organizers, and projects in Unit 4 - Part 2 - The Presidency.