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In re Sealed Case

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
838 F.2d 476 (1988)


The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 permitted a court called the Special Division to appoint an independent counsel to investigate and prosecute government officials for violations of federal criminal laws upon request by the attorney general. The independent counsel could terminate the position when the investigation or prosecution was complete. The act gave the attorney general sole removal power of an independent counsel “for cause.” However, the attorney general could not remove the independent counsel directly, but rather had to petition the special court to remove the independent counsel. Independent Counsel Alexia Morrison (plaintiff) was appointed to investigate possible obstruction of congressional investigations by Department of Justice officials (defendants). When Morrison requested that the federal court issue subpoenas requiring production of documents, Theodore Olson (defendant) moved to quash, claiming that the act’s independent-counsel provision was unconstitutional. Olson argued that the act violated separation-of-powers principles by giving to the judiciary appointment and removal powers traditionally vested in the president. The district court denied the motion to quash, declared the act constitutional, and held Olson in contempt for not complying with the subpoenas. Olson appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Silberman, J.)

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