Inherent Powers: Definition & Examples

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  • 1:05 Executive Orders
  • 1:50 Enforcing the Law
  • 3:19 Injunctions
  • 4:05 Inherent Powers of Congress
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephen Benz

Stephen has a JD and a BA in sociology and political science.

Inherent powers are those powers that Congress and the president need in order to get the job done right. Although not specified in the Constitution, they are reasonable powers that are a logical part of the powers delegated to Congress and the president.

Definition of Inherited Powers

Imagine you were a chef tasked in preparing the food for a major banquet. You've already been hired for the job and told what to make. In order to accomplish your task - serving dinner - you would have to make decisions and execute them, ranging from what types of ingredients to choose to what utensils to use.

If every single decision was made by committee or needed oversight, the planning process would take forever, and you might not be able to get your own job done. For this reason, you would most likely have the final say on these details or the power to execute your own job.

Inherent powers are kind of the same way. They are the powers that are necessary for a branch of government to get its job done.

Inherent Powers of the President

Article II of the Constitution specifies relatively little about the role of the president in the United States. But it does specify that the president must ensure that laws are faithfully executed. This important clause has been used by presidents to expand the inherent power that they can use.

Executive Orders

Executive orders are one type of inherent power that the president has. As an example, we can consider President Barack Obama's decision to raise the federal minimum wage for all workers of the federal government. According to the Constitution, the right to regulate the minimum wage is limited to Congress under the interstate commerce clause.

But, since Obama serves as the president, he is in charge of the executive branch and has decided that all workers for the executive branch will be paid at least $10.10, way more than the $7.25 an hour now legally mandated for all private sector workers. Obama has the right to make such a change under his capacity to oversee the executive branch of government.

Enforcing (or not Enforcing) the Law

Another inherent power of the president is the ability to determine how vigorously a law is enforced. An example here is President Obama's decision not to deport children who have lived in the United States most their lives, but were brought illegally by their parents at a young age. Obama issued this executive order after Congress stalled on passing the Dream Act, a bill that would allow undocumented child immigrants to be able to study in American universities.

Technically, the president cannot make immigration laws. That is a right reserved to Congress. But the president is in charge of enforcing the immigration laws. And in this case, the Obama administration has essentially said that children of a certain age will not be deported while attending a university. In other words, Obama is not going to enforce the existing immigration law against these children.

Officially, Obama is not offering them a path to legalization, but the idea is that such students will earn special training that will qualify them for an employment visa in the United States. This example shows how a president can exert power by not enforcing the law.

Some opponents of Obama have charged that his executive orders and failure to enforce the law have been unconstitutional. House Speaker John Boehner has even begun a process to sue the president for failing to live up to his constitutional obligations.


What if there is a worker strike that threatens public safety or the ability of the federal government to execute its laws? According to the Supreme Court, the president does have the ability to use his third type of inherent power, the right to order an injunction. An injunction is a formal order by the government to do some action.

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