Executive Branch

Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-highsm- 04961

Key Concepts

Article II of the Constitution

Article II outlines the role of the President, including the election of the President and Vice President (revised by the 12th Amendment), the oath taken, compensation, as well as the duties of the President, who must be a “natural born Citizen of the United States,” at least thirty-five years old, and has resided in the United States for fourteen years. 

  • The President is the Commander in Chief of the armed services and has the power to pardon for “Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” 
  • The President with the “Advice and Consent” of the Senate can make treaties if two-thirds of the Senate agree, as well as nominate and, with the Senate’s “Advice and Consent,” appoint Supreme Court judges, Ambassadors, and other federal officials. Congress can also delegate power to the President to make appointments for these other federal officials not specified in the Constitution, and the President can also fill vacancies when the Senate is in recess. 
  • The President is required to present a State of the Union report to Congress, and holds enforcement power of laws, and “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” 
  • The President can be impeached and removed from office on conviction of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” 

Executive Orders & Executive Privilege

  • An Executive Order is a signed, written, published order from the President that has the force of law and under the express or implied authority of the President to execute federal law passed by Congress and under the Constitution. Such executive orders are unconstitutional if the President has exceeded the authority delegated by Congress to enforce the law or directly contradicts or defies Congress when it explicitly did not grant the President such authority. 
  • Executive Privilege is not mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, but it is implied through the separation of powers and enforcement power. It is a privilege of the President and members of the Executive branch to keep documents and communication confidential from the branches of government. The reason for this privilege is to promote free and candid discussion during decision-making between the President and advisors. The privilege applies to official responsibilities and provides immunity to a subpoena. Yet, there are exceptions to this privilege including when confidentiality would obstruct a criminal investigation or if the document or communication pertains to matters outside official responsibilities.

Relevant Cases or Laws

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952)

The Supreme Court held that the President was not a lawmaker, but rather an executor of laws, and that Congress did not grant President Harry Truman the authority to issue an Executive Order to seize steel mills under the Taft-Hartley Act. Learn More

Korematsu v. United States (1944)

The Supreme Court held that President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not exceed his authority in issuing Executive Order 9066, authorizing the forceful removal and internment of people of Japanese descent as a national security measure under the War Powers Act. Learn More

United States v. Nixon (1974)

The Supreme Court held that President Richard Nixon could not claim executive privilege to keep the tapes of his Oval office White House conversations confidential and refuse to honor a subpoena to disclose the tapes to the Watergate Special Prosecutor. Learn More

References and Resources

Teaching Tools, Lesson Plans, & Activities

 Presidents and the Constitution, posted by the Bill of Rights Institute, includes 40 lesson plans on all aspects of the Presidency.

Primary Sources on Watergate, posted by DocsTeach, an online teaching tool with documents from the National Archives. 

Key Constitutional Concepts from the Annenberg Classroom. This video includes a segment on presidential power and the Truman Steel Seizure case. Here is a handout for teachers, including a lesson plan, to use with the video.

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