Presidential leadership, executive orders, and civil rights in America
Kahl, Jenny Rose
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Political scientists have concluded that presidents have exercised limited leadership in making of civil rights policy. However, this study argues that presidents have exercised relatively strong civil rights leadership through the use of executive orders, thereby avoiding the need to propose civil rights legislation to Congress. This conclusion is based on an analysis of the executive orders issued by Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, especially in the areas of equal employment opportunity, affirmative action, federal contract compliance, and fair housing. Secondarily, this research suggests that this form of presidential leadership has meant that Congress and the courts are left with the task of deciding whether to support or oppose presidential policy preferences in civil rights. Ultimately, neither legislators nor judges normally want to be seen as erasing presidential advances in civil rights established via executive orders. This fact underscores the importance of this form of unilateral action by modern presidents in the field of civil rights.