Why would The Onion take an executive order seriously?

If this article is to be believed, (and it is headed by a cautionary box saying it could use some more documentation,) the office of the president demanded that The Onion stop using the presidential seal. The basis for this demand was one of Nixon’s executive orders.

The Onion’s response was to say, basically, “We don’t have to have your permission. But still, consider this our official request for permission to use the seal.”

My question is, why didn’t they stop with “We don’t need your permission?” What power does the executive branch have against citizens who are not employees of the executive branch of the government? If The Onion had simply ignored the demand, what possible consequences could (legally) have been imposed on them?


Wrong forum, sorry, please move.

The law passed by Congress gives him the power to restrict the use of the seal.

If you read Executive Order 11649 it starts with “by virtue of the authority vested in me by section 713(b) of title 18, United States Code, I hereby prescribe the following regulations governing the use of the Seals of the President and the Vice President of the United States.”

His order now has the same force as law. For executive orders that don’t derive there power from Congress, the only punishment is removal from office.

That clears that up, thanks!



OP requests move. COCC > GQ


Whew! Just in time! ;):wink:


I’m not sure I understand what you are saying.

According to Title 18 U.S.C. § 713, unauthorized use of the Seal “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

Is your statement meant to convey that the Executive Order interpretation of what the law says does not apply to parties who are not members of the Executive Branch of government? That by invoking the Executive Order, the fines and imprisonment are not legally binding?

Executive orders can do a few different things.

  1. In the simple case, an Executive Order is a direction given to an officer subordinate to the President to carry out some duty; in this case, failure to comply could result in the officer’s being fired.

  2. In cases where Congress has delegated discretionary power to the President, an Executive Order is used to instruct subordinate agencies on how that discretionary power is to be exercised. In the case of 18 USC § 713, the statute makes misuse of the seal a crime and sets penalties for it, but leaves it up to the President to decide what “misuse” entails. The President, through an Executive Order, made that determination, and also provided for exceptions by allowing special requests to be made.

Because the power to do this was given to the President by Congress, the EO has the same force as the statute itself.

Think of it like trademark law - the executive branch holds the trademark for the seal. And of course since the feds write the rules - they can punish you a bit more severely than just suing you for umpteen million dollars.

Nor is this restricted to this seal - it covers everything from the Congressional seal to unauthorized wear of military medals - covered in different sections of the same title of code.

I suspect that if this ever went to court, it would be found a violation of the First Amendment to seek to regulate the use of the presidential seal in a commentary/satire situation such as The Onion.

I suspect you are right. What remains to be seen is whether The Onion is willing to fight it or just wants to gummint out of their hair.