Executive Agreements and the Role of the President
Executive agreements are agreements between the President of the United States and another country or international organization that do not require the approval of Congress. These agreements are an important tool for the President to conduct foreign policy, but they have also been controversial, particularly with regard to the extent of the President’s authority to enter into them. In this article, we will explore the history of executive agreements, their legal status, and some recent controversies surrounding them.
History of Executive Agreements
The use of executive agreements dates back to the early years of the United States. In the 1790s, President George Washington negotiated a series of executive agreements with Britain that defined the boundaries of U.S. territories in the Great Lakes region and established commercial relations between the two nations. Over the years, presidents have used executive agreements to address a wide range of issues, including trade, defense, and environmental protection.
Legal Status of Executive Agreements
The legal status of executive agreements is a contentious issue. Supporters of executive agreements argue that they are constitutional and necessary for the President to conduct foreign policy effectively. Opponents argue that they circumvent the Constitution’s requirement for congressional approval of treaties and have the potential to undermine democratic accountability.
In 1936, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. that the President has broad authority to conduct foreign affairs, including the power to enter into executive agreements without seeking congressional approval. However, many legal scholars argue that this ruling was based on outdated understandings of the President’s powers and that the Court’s more recent decisions have tempered this view.
In recent years, executive agreements have been the focus of several controversies. In 2015, President Obama entered into the Paris climate agreement, which committed the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Critics argued that this agreement was not a valid executive agreement because it imposed legal obligations on the United States and should have been treated as a treaty requiring Senate approval.
More recently, President Trump’s use of executive agreements has been the subject of controversy. In 2017, Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement by executive order, arguing that it was a bad deal for American workers. Proponents of the TPP argued that Trump’s action was illegal and undermined American leadership on trade.
Executive agreements have been an important tool for presidents to conduct foreign policy for more than two centuries. While their legal status is still the subject of debate, they remain a valuable tool for addressing complex global challenges. As we look to the future, it will be important for presidents to use executive agreements judiciously and in a manner consistent with the Constitution’s requirement for democratic accountability.