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Researching Environmental Law: Executive Orders

About EOs

Executive orders are usually first published in the Daily (previously Weekly) Compilation of Presidential Documents, then in the Federal Register. The Daily/Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents includes EOs, signing statements, proclamations, etc. Each year, the entirety of the Daily Compilation is then printed in the Compilation of Presidential Documents (which is organized by year). This yearly compilation is in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 3 Compilation when that title is revised in print, starting from 1936. This is important for citation purposes, so you can be confident you are looking at the correct language, and so that you understand how government documents are organized. 

For a thorough yet succinct review of executive orders, see Cong. Research Serv., RS20846, Executive Orders: Issuance, Modification, and Revocation (Apr. 16, 2014). 

Generally, executive orders are published in this process:

  1. The President announces the EO and provides some details. 
  2. A version is printed on the White House website. 
  3. The official version is printed in the Federal Register. 
  4. All presidential documents are published as part of the Presidential Compilation of Documents. 
  5. The Yearly Presidential Compilation of Documents in printed in the most recent version of Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations. 

Finding EOs

There are many ways of finding and researching executive orders. You will come across references to them in secondary sources as you start your research. You can also search collections of EOs.

Because EOs are published in the Federal Register or the Code of Federal Regulations, you can search any of those collections to find EOs as you would search them for any other regulation. You can also search the Compilation of Presidential Documents from the U.S. Government Publishing Office, the official publisher of the U.S. government. 

A useful tool in any collection of EOs is a disposition table. This table will help you determine if an EO has been amended, revoked, or suspended by a subsequent EO. Here is an example from the Federal Register website.

Official Government Websites
  • Federal Register - All EOs from 1994-present; disposition tables. 
  • National Archives Federal Register Collection - Disposition tables for 1937-present; searching the Codification of Presidential Proclamations and Executive Orders, 1945-1989
  • U.S. GPO Compilation of Presidential Documents - 1992-present; browse by year, navigate to the search tool, or use the new website GovInfo (still a work in progress but has better search features)  
  • Code of Federal Regulations - 1996-2016, annual edition (follows the format of the print version). While regulations may be searched via the eCFR, the eCFR will re-direct you to the GPO yearly compilation link noted above. 
  • White House website - The first place the text is found is often on the President's website. The National Archives has the "Archived Presidential White House Websites." The amount and type of documents will vary by president - the list begins with President Clinton. 
    • Be cautious when relying on this! An unofficial publication may have mistakes - It was recently reported that there were some mistakes in the versions printed on the White House website, not present in the Federal Register printing – for example, the wrong USC provision is referenced in the White House version. Compare the White House version and the Federal Register version of EO 13769 on immigration:

EO Collections

These collections focus primarily on presidential materials/EOs. These materials can also be found on official government websites and any website that has collections of the relevant government documents, including HeinOnline, Westlaw, and Lexis Advance.