In the 1980s, the Iran-Contra scandal and mishandling of responsibilities for the disposal of hazardous waste under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency were two principal cases that came within the purview of the Ethics in Government Act. Morrison v. Olson itself arose because of accusations surrounding the mishandling of toxic-waste-related issues at the EPA.
How a controversy over management at the EPA could develop into a constitutional test of the doctrine of separation of powers can be understood with reference to what might be called the historiography of the modern politics of the doctrine.
For decades, beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, conservatives warned about the dangers of concentrating greater power in the hands of the president and his executive branch. It would take a conservative president, making conservative Supreme Court appointments, to reverse this trend, they argued.
Yet, far from diminishing, presidential power increased greatly under Nixon. That's what Watergate was all about. It has continued to increase during the Reagan years. That's what the Iran-contra affair--personified by deceiving Congress, launching secret, illegal operations and believing the executive branch unaccountable and "above the written law"--was all about.
Against this background, independent special prosecutors were created, charged with investigating wrongdoing wherever found and removing prospe