William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal


Presidents have a wide array of tools at their disposal to unilaterally influence public policy, without the direct approval of Congress or the courts. These unilateral actions have the potential to affect a variety of individual rights, either profitably or adversely. Governors too can employ unilateral directives for similar purposes, often impacting an even wider range of rights. In this Article, we collect all executive orders and memoranda related to individual rights issued between 1981 and 2018 at the federal level, and across the U.S. states, to analyze their use over time. We find that chief executives of all kinds are more likely to issue unilateral directives that expand individual rights if they are Democratic or liberal and when there is a public appetite for rights advancement. Furthermore, governors issue more rights-related directives when they view Presidents as likely to be restrictive or inactive on individual rights.