Fans will remember the repetitive scenes in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in which the goulish caretaker of Hogwarts climbs his ladder to tack more and more orders on the wall from the evil newly appointed headmistress Delores Umbridge. The number of these dictums grows and grows until there is no room left on the wall.
Recently watching President Biden sitting at his desk with a stack of executive orders for him to sign brings to mind that Harry Potter scene.
According to the federal register, so far Biden has signed 32 executive orders in the first 6 weeks of his presidency. That puts him on a pretty torrid pace, but that has become rather normal over the last 20 years.
By comparison, President Donald Trump signed a total of 55 executive orders in his first year, 2017. In 2020, Trump signed the highest number of orders during his term in office at 69. President George W. Bush signed a high of 54 orders in his first year, 2001.
Interestingly, President Bill Clinton signed just 1 executive order in his first year, 1994. But he made up for that the following year with an eruption of 40 executive orders in 1995. Clinton’s apex was 49 orders in 1996. During 8 years in office President Ronald Reagan signed 381 of the orders.
In a representive republic the extensive use of presidential executive orders has always seemed counter to our founding documents. There have been constitutional challenges to some, but most are enacted to great accolades by one political party and declarations of gloom and doom by the other.
In the United States we elect the president as head of state, leader of the executive branch, and commander in chief. But we also elect representatives from our own districts and senators from our states. These people are supposed to represent us in our national government, and work to build consensus for the benefit of us, and our country.
No matter who is president, executive orders seem too often to circumvent the representatives of the people and usurp their power. This often conjures up the image of Argus Filch climbing his ladder to squeeze in one more edict to the students of Hogwarts from the maleficent Delores Umbridge.
Our founders established the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government knowing that there would naturally be friction among those branches. That tension was their remarkable idea to keep each branch honest and in check. A better balance among the branches would be a blessing for us all.
America could assuredly benefit from fewer edicts, and from more well thought out and and thoroughly considered ideas from our elected representatives.