No, Trump's Exec Orders Don't Have This Much Power

by Ann-Derrick Gaillot
Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Just before being fired on Jan. 30, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates stood up against Donald Trump's executive order banning refugees and people from seven majority-Muslim countries. Known as the Muslim ban, the order is an act of bigotry and a national embarrassment. And its constitutionality is being put to the test. Everyone is wondering what the 45th president will do next. But no matter what Trump may sign next, an executive order cannot amend the constitution.

While the Constitution doesn't explicitly guarantee the right to vote amongst other things, it does lay out exactly how it can be amended, and there are only two ways. As detailed in Article V, amendments can be proposed is by a Constitutional Convention made up of two thirds of the U.S.'s state legislatures (which has never happened) and Congress, who then vote to adopt it. After that, the amendment must be ratified by two thirds of the states to become official.

On the other hand, executive orders are only powerful because and within the limits of the Constitution. They aren't explicitly mentioned in the document, but are based in Article II, which establishes the Executive branch and presidential powers. And if an executive order is found to be unconstitutional in court, it is overturned, as has happened before.

Nevertheless, Trump's executive orders are creating much work for constitutional lawyers across the country. And the questions they are facing will be complicated ones to solve. The 45th president's appreciation for the Constitution's complexity, though, is highly questionable. He began proposing constitutional amendments before he even spent his first day serving in public office. Back in October during a speech in Grand Junction, Colorado, he said he wanted a constitutional amendment that would limit the terms of members of Congress. He took a more informal route in November, tweeting that people who burn American flags should "perhaps" face losing their citizenship, violations of both the First and 14th Amendments, as the Washington Post's Editorial Board noted.

No matter what he signs and proposes, Trump cannot amend the Constitution on his own, but that doesn't mean he can't be a powerful force in the erosion of and trampling on some Americans' constitutional rights. One need only look to Executive Order 9066, which allowed for Japanese internment, to know that much is true. The reaches of Trump's constitutional powers will continue to be tested throughout his presidency, but amending the Constitution is still something he'll need Congress and the states for.