Reasonableness Review of Executive Orders

42 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2017

See all articles by David M. Driesen

David M. Driesen

Syracuse University College of Law

Date Written: December 13, 2017


This article addresses the question of how courts should assess the reasonableness of executive orders. Prior to the New Deal, a unified framework applied to assessment of all executive and legislative decisions, including executive orders. In the 1930s and 40s, a dichotomy began to develop. The Supreme Court created a highly deferential rational basis test to govern its review of legislation’s reasonableness. On the other hand, the Court applied a much less deferential arbitrary and capricious test to review the reasonableness of administrative agency rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act. This dichotomy left open the question of what standard should govern judicial review of executive orders. This article addresses this question in the context of statutory executive orders, rather than orders relying on implied or express independent constitutional authority.

It combines a constitutional analysis of separation of powers, due process, and the nondelegation doctrine with an analysis of relevant administrative law. This analysis provides a constitutional framework for understanding how to review executive orders for reasonableness. In the end, this article concludes that the need for “faithful” law execution in light of due process and separation of powers considerations leads to the conclusion that the courts should apply arbitrary and capricious review to executive orders issued pursuant to statutory authority, rather than the rational basis test that applies to legislation.

Suggested Citation

Driesen, David M., Reasonableness Review of Executive Orders (December 13, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

David M. Driesen (Contact Author)

Syracuse University College of Law ( email )

Dineen Hall
950 Irving Ave.
Syracuse, NY, NY 13244
United States
315-443-4218 (Phone)
315-443-4141 (Fax)


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