While laws have to be passed through the House of Representatives and the Senate before they can be signed into law by the standing United States President, the leader of the nation can sign an executive order into effect. Many of these go through a vetting process before being signed, as they can easily be overturned by the Supreme Court, Federal Court of Appeals, or members of Congress. There have been several instances of an executive order being taken to court, and here are the five most notable legal battles.
1. FDR’s 1935 Legal Battles
Franklin D. Roosevelt faced a lot of legal conflicts in 1935 when five of his executive orders were overturned by the United States Supreme Court. The first of which was the prohibition of transportation in interstate and foreign commerce of petroleum, with the next essentially being a duplicate. The next few ones get much different, though.
Executive order 6256 was to ensure that goods made with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China didn’t enter the United States. There were two more that were overturned that were incredibly minor, and seem to be simply added to the list in one of those “while we’re here” situations that don’t have much information available from the U.S. government at all.
2. Reagan Starts a Snowball
Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12291 which required the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to provide a benefit-cost analysis for any large expenditures by the government that exceed $100 million. The original executive order wasn’t altered by George H.W. Bush but has been revised or replaced by every president ever since.
How much the president has been allowed to change on the original executive order has been taken to court several times over the years, and it seems that presidents fight one another to make the executive order their own. In fact, Donald Trump made several alterations before they were rescinded by Joe Biden.
3. Clinton’s Anti-Strikebreaking Challenged
In March 1995, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12954 that would bar companies from hiring employees on a permanent basis to replace employees that were legally on strike. While union workers were over the moon about this executive order, it didn’t last long thanks to a court appeal.
The Federal Appeals Court ruled that Clinton’s executive order couldn’t be signed into law because the National Labor Relations Act was signed into law in 1935. This act had more power than the executive order, causing Clinton’s ruling to be overturned. Known as the Wagner Act, it was signed by Franklin Roosevelt and has been amended in 1947 and 1959.
4. Trump’s Immigration Backlash
Donald Trump made a lot of promises regarding immigration to the United States when he became President, and within just a couple of weeks, he had signed Executive Order 13769 with immediate backlash. The executive order imposed travel restrictions from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, all of which hold a Muslim majority.
Several lawsuits were filed as a result of the travel bans, most notably the case of Hawaii v. Trump, with the 50th state claiming that the executive order was simply a ban on religion with no other causation behind it. The executive order had been altered by Trump over the following 12 months and made its way to the Supreme Court where it was upheld before being revoked by succeeding president Joe Biden.
5. Biden’s Student Loan Appeal
Speaking of Joe Biden, he would end up undoing many of the executive orders signed by Trump while putting his own into effect. Biden announced in 2021 that he was set to cancel nearly $6 billion in U.S. student loan debt, and the following year, applications were being accepted to have up to $20,000 in debt relieved.
However, several states complained that their tax income would be affected by student loan cancellations, all of which were led by Republican governors. Shortly after student loan forgiveness was announced, it had to be suspended as it was taken to court, leaving more than 26 million Americans with their hopes dashed for the time being.