Supreme Court of the United States - 487 U.S. 654
The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 allows for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate and prosecute high-ranking government officials for federal criminal law violations. The Attorney General conducts a preliminary investigation and applies to the court for the appointment of an independent counsel if necessary. The independent counsel has full power and independent authority to exercise all investigative and prosecutorial functions and powers of the Department of Justice. The Act outlines the procedure for removing and terminating an independent counsel's office. The Attorney General can only remove an independent counsel for good cause, physical disability, mental incapacity, or any other condition that substantially impairs their duties. If removed, the independent counsel can seek judicial review. An independent counsel's office terminates when they notify the Attorney General that they have completed or substantially completed any investigations or prosecutions under the Act, or if the Special Division finds that all matters within their jurisdiction have been completed. The Act allows for congressional oversight of independent counsel activities, and the counsel must cooperate with Congress. Certain congressional committee members can request the Attorney General to apply for the appointment of an independent counsel, and the Attorney General must respond within a specified time but is not required to comply. The court ruled that these provisions do not violate the Appointments Clause or the limitations of Article III, nor do they interfere with the President's authority under Article II in violation of the constitutional principle of separation of powers. However, the lower court's decision was overturned.
The legal case discusses the principle of separation of powers and its application in two cases involving the Legislative and Executive Branches and the Independent Counsel Act. The Court of Appeals invalidated the statute as it limits the President's control over the independent counsel, which is a purely executive power. The statute takes away the core of the prosecutorial function, and the Court's "balancing test" does not provide clear standards to determine how much removal of Presidential power is too much. The statute eliminates the assurance of a sympathetic forum for the President and gives the conduct of the investigation and determination of whether to prosecute to a person neither selected by nor subject to the control of the President.
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