The act instructed the attorney general to request an outside prosecutor in cases involving high government officials where the personal, financial, or political conflict of interest is too great.
In the time since the law was passed, 21 Independent Counsel investiations have been launched (several still on-going), leading to only seven convictions. To date, nearly $200 million have been spent.
The Supreme Court ruled that the act is constitutional in Morrison v. Olson (1988).
The law lapsed for 18 months in the early 1990s, but was revived after Bill Clinton campaigned for its renewal, despite encouragement from George H. W. Bush not to. Following the abuses of the Ken Starr investigation of Bill Clinton, the law was once again allowed to lapse and will probably not be renewed.