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Independent counsels born of Watergate, upheld in Morrison v. Olson


In response to the Watergate scandal and the Saturday Night Massacre that occurred under the Nixon presidential administration, Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, which imposed a number of ethical obligations on government officials and public sector employees.

One of the most important provisions in the act authorized the appointment of independent counsels to investigate and prosecute high-ranking government officials accused of violating certain federal laws. One such independent counsel, Alexia Morrison, was appointed to investigate charges that Solicitor General Ted Olson and other Department of Justice officials had obstructed congressional investigations and provided false or misleading testimony to a congressional subcommittee.

Olson challenged the constitutionality of the act’s independent counsel provision. The resulting decision of the United States Supreme Court in Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654 (1988), interpreting the constitutional authority to appoint and remove inferior executive officers became one of the landmark decisions on the doctrine of separation of powers.

The court upheld the act seven justices to one, with the late Justice Antonin G. Scalia alone dissenting in his trademark biting style, but the decision was not uncontroversial despite the clear majority.

Check it out and see if you agree with the court’s decision. case briefs are keyed to the most popular law school casebooks, so you can be certain that you're studying the right aspects of a case for your class. Have you signed up for your Quimbee membership? The American Bar Association offers three months of Quimbee study aids (a $72 value) for law student members.