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A photo of Gerald Ford speaking in the House of Representatives.
In 1974, President Ford became the first and still the only president to pardon a previous president (Richard Nixon). Here he is speaking before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice meeting explaining his reasons. While the pardon was unpopular with many and may have cost Ford the election two years later, his constitutional power to issue it is indisputable. (credit: modification of work by the Library of Congress)

Presidents may choose to issue executive order    s or proclamations to achieve policy goals. Usually, executive orders direct government agencies to pursue a certain course in the absence of congressional action. A more subtle version pioneered by recent presidents is the executive memorandum, which tends to attract less attention. Many of the most famous executive orders have come in times of war or invoke the president’s authority as commander-in-chief, including Franklin Roosevelt’s order permitting the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942 and Harry Truman’s directive desegregating the armed forces (1948). The most famous presidential proclamation was Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (1863), which declared slaves in areas under Confederate control to be free (with a few exceptions).

Executive orders are subject to court rulings or changes in policy enacted by Congress. During the Korean War, the Supreme Court revoked Truman’s order seizing the steel industry.

Youngstown Sheet&Tube Co. v. Sawyer , 343 U.S. 579 (1952).
These orders are also subject to reversal by presidents who come after, and recent presidents have wasted little time reversing the orders of their predecessors in cases of disagreement. Sustained executive orders, which are those not overturned in courts, typically have some prior authority from Congress that legitimizes them. When there is no prior authority, it is much more likely that an executive order will be overturned by a later president. For this reason, this tool has become less common in recent decades ( [link] ).

A graph showing the average number of executive actions each U.S. President took per year in office. In reverse chronological order, Barack Obama took 0.0905 actions per year, George W. Bush took 0.0997, William J. Clinton took 0.1247, George Bush took 0.1137, Ronald Reagan took 0.1305, Jimmy Carter took 0.2192, Gerald R. Ford took 0.1890, Richard Nixon took 0.1708, Lyndon B. Johnson took 0.1722, John F. Kennedy took 0.2064, Dwight D. Eisenhower took 0.1658, Harry S. Truman took 0.3194, Franklin D. Roosevelt took 0.8411, Herbert Hoover took 0.6630, Calvin Coolidge took 0.5896, Warren G. Harding took 0.5934, Woodrow Wilson took 0.6175, William Howard Taft took 0.4959, Theodore Roosevelt took 0.3965, William McKinley took 0.1119, Benjamin Harrison took 0.0979, Grover Cleveland took 0.1733, Chester Arthur took 0.0760, James Garfield took 0.0299, Rutherford B. Hayes took 0.0630, Ulysses S. Grant took 0.0743, Andrew Johnson took 0.0556, Abraham Lincoln took 0.0319, James Buchanan took 0.0110, Franklin Pierce took 0.0240, Millard Fillmore took 0.0124, Zachary Taylor took 0.0101, James J. Polk took 0.0123, John Tyler took 0.0119, William Henry Harrison took 0, Martin Van Buren took 0.0068, Andrew Jackson took 0.0041, John Quincy Adams took 0.0021, James Monroe took 0.0003, James Madison took 0.0003, Thomas Jefferson took 0.0014, John Adams took 0.0007, and George Washington took 0.0028. At the bottom of the graph, a source is listed: “Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, “Executive Orders.” The American Psychology Project. Ed. John T. Wooley and Gernard Peters. Santa Barbara, CA. 1999-2016.”.
Executive actions were unusual until the late nineteenth century. They became common in the first half of the twentieth century but have been growing less popular for the last few decades because they often get overturned in court if the Congress has not given the president prior delegated authority.

Executive order 9066

Following the devastating Japanese attacks on the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941, many in the United States feared that Japanese Americans on the West Coast had the potential and inclination to form a fifth column (a hostile group working from the inside) for the purpose of aiding a Japanese invasion. These fears mingled with existing anti-Japanese sentiment across the country and created a paranoia that washed over the West Coast like a large wave. In an attempt to calm fears and prevent any real fifth-column actions, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 , which authorized the removal of people from military areas as necessary. When the military dubbed the entire West Coast a military area, it effectively allowed for the removal of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans from their homes. These people, many of them U.S. citizens, were moved to relocation centers in the interior of the country. They lived in the camps there for two and a half years ( [link] ).

Julie Des Jardins, “From Citizen to Enemy: The Tragedy of Japanese Internment,” http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/world-war-ii/essays/from-citizen-enemy-tragedy-japanese-internment (May 1, 2016).

A photo of sign in a store front that says “I am an American.”
This sign appeared outside a store in Oakland, California, owned by a Japanese American after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. After the president’s executive order, the store was closed and the owner evacuated to an internment camp for the duration of the war. (credit: the Library of Congress)

The overwhelming majority of Japanese Americans felt shamed by the actions of the Japanese empire and willingly went along with the policy in an attempt to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States. But at least one Japanese American refused to go along. His name was Fred Korematsu , and he decided to go into hiding in California rather than be taken to the internment camps with his family. He was soon discovered, turned over to the military, and sent to the internment camp in Utah that held his family. But his challenge to the internment system and the president’s executive order continued.

In 1944, Korematsu’s case was heard by the Supreme Court. In a 6–3 decision, the Court ruled against him, arguing that the administration had the constitutional power to sign the order because of the need to protect U.S. interests against the threat of espionage.

Korematsu v. United States , 323 U.S. 214 (1944).
Forty-four years after this decision, President Reagan issued an official apology for the internment and provided some compensation to the survivors. In 2011, the Justice Department went a step further by filing a notice officially recognizing that the solicitor general of the United States acted in error by arguing to uphold the executive order. (The solicitor general is the official who argues cases for the U.S. government before the Supreme Court.) However, despite these actions, in 2014, the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia was documented as saying that while he believed the decision was wrong, it could occur again.
Ilya Somin, “Justice Scalia on Kelo and Korematsu,” Washington Post , 8 February 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/02/08/justice-scalia-on-kelo-and-korematsu/.

What do the Korematsu case and the internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans suggest about the extent of the president’s war powers? What does this episode in U.S. history suggest about the weaknesses of constitutional checks on executive power during times of war?

Questions & Answers

what's the difference between a Senate house and the parliament
Irene Reply
wat is decentralization
Irene Reply
Good question? its another way of emphasizing locality as a first principle value. assumed is self suffiency, sustainability, redundancy in critical systems but most of all it represents an individual citizens liberty; our rights, a dependence from and freedom from centralized power.
Lance
tnx
Irene
it's also assumed that this freedom is critical to our ability and advantages to be resilient. our full capacity to adapt w out any headwinds or yoke from an over reaching central world power as found in empires and dynasties or for example global neoliberalism virus.
Lance
Well said Lance! It's easy to forget how decentralized our government is. Local people have skin in the game.
Micah
Is it possible for a serious third party to emerge in the United States, positioned ideologically between the Democrats on the left and the Republicans on the right? Why or why not?
Richard Reply
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Micah
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Dora Reply
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Sexy Reply
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Omohowho
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Official Reply
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Austin
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Irene
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Favour Reply
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WONDERS Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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