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Wall Street Journal | August 6, 1998

Review & Outlook

Executive Rules

The courts have been shooting down President Clinton's various interpretations and assertions of executive privilege of late, but he has also pursued an "executive order strategy" that goes way beyond trying to guide federal agencies in how to implement laws. Instead it actively seeks to put in place policies Congress would never adopt. Last week, the White House admitted that a May executive order gutting certain powers of state and local governments had been drafted in secret without consulting them. It has delayed its effective date by 90 days and pledged to "start with a clean slate" in revising the order.

Executive orders are important. The explosive growth of government workers unions and quota programs all grew out of executive orders first issued in the 1960s. In 1987, Ronald Reagan issued an executive order that affirmed the federal government's support for the 10th Amendment, which reserves many powers "to the States respectively, or to the people." But President Clinton amended that order in May to create nine new policy justifications for federal meddling. "Preserving supremacy of federal law provides an essential balance to the power of the states," the order read in part. Bipartisan groups of state and local officials called it a "stealth order," and demanded it be revoked.

Senator Fred Thompson and Rep. Dave McIntosh also took up the issue, and the House called for the order to be overturned last month. The White House finally conceded it should have discussed the issue with the states and announced the order's implementation would be delayed. While it is a small victory, it signals that state and local officials are just as frustrated as the courts with this Administration's endless and imaginative expansion of its powers and privileges. Are there any rules of the political game that this administration feels obliged to play by?


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