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case digest marbury v madison
case digest marbury v madison

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Published by: Lee on Jul 11, 2013
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MARBURY V. MADISONAND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF JUDICIAL REVIEWBy Megan NicholsJudicial review from the Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison in 1803 and the impact of Chief Justice JohnMarshall's accompanying decision have greatly strengthened the judicial branch. Marbury v. Madison stands as theclassic expression of judicial review in American constitutional law. Though the significance of this case has increasedover time, the case will remain as one of the fundamental judicial opinions in American constitutional history.The framers of the federal constitution divided the United States government into three branches: the legislative, theexecutive, and the judiciary. The latter two were not in the Articles of Confederation. The Federal Constitution enabledCongress to establish certain rules and procedures in the operation of the federal courts. In 1789, Congress established athree-tiered system of federal courts--the District, Circuit, and Supreme Courts. At the bottom of this hierarchy weredistrict courts, each with a single district judge covering every state, with the exception of Virginia and Massachusetts,which had two each. In the middle of this hierarchy were three circuit courts covering the southern, eastern, and middlestates. Finally, at the top was the Supreme Court, which was staffed by five associate justices and one chief justice. Inaddition to the required Supreme Court duties, the justices also served with locally placed justices on the CircuitCourts.(1) The justices objected, however, to serving on the Circuit Court for two reasons. First, traveling was toostrenuous due to the fragile health of some of the present judges. Second, and perhaps more valid, was that theSupreme Court was an appellate court which heard various appeals from the Circuit Courts. This meant the SupremeCourt justices could possibly hear the same case twice.(2)A part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which caused great concern among many Americans, was Section 25. This sectionof the Judiciary Act stated that whenever the highest state court rendered a decision against a person who claimedrights under the Federal Constitution, laws, or treaties, the judgement could be reviewed and possibly reversed by theSupreme Court. At the time, states' rights advocates approved of this arrangement because it gave state courts a sharein a jurisdiction that might otherwise have been assigned to the federal courts. Others viewed Section 25, however, as adanger to the sovereignty of the states since their highest state court could be overruled by the federal judiciary.(3)Eleven years before Chief Justice Marshall's decision in Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court clarified that itpossessed the right of judicial review. In 1792, Congress enacted legislation directing the Circuit Judges, including theSupreme Court Justices then sitting on the Circuit Courts, to act as pension commissioners. When this legislation wasbrought before the Circuit Court in New York, with Chief Justice John Jay presiding, Jay rejected the Congressional act,stating that "... neither the Legislative nor the Executive can constitutionally assign to the Judicial any duties but as suchare properly judicial and to be performed in a judicial manner."(4) However, before the issue had a chance to reach theSupreme Court for decision, Congress had changed the procedure for the pension claims. The case was not broughtbefore the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court did not have the opportunity to rule the act of Congress invalid. Thus,Judicial review was strong at the state level while it was only developing at the federal level.
 In 1799, the Federalist Party began efforts to expand the organization and jurisdiction of the federal courts created inthe Judiciary Act of 1789. Before Thomas Jefferson took office following his electoral triumph in 1800, the lame-duckFederalist-dominated Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1801.(5) This act abolished the existing Circuit Courts, freeingSupreme Court justices from their duties as circuit judges. In addition, the number of Supreme Court justices wasreduced from six to five, and six new circuits were created. Thus, outgoing President John Adams was able to appointsixteen circuit judges, who came, among others at even lower levels, to be called the "midnight judges" because theircommissions were signed in the closing days of the Adams' administration.(6)In retrospect, because the case is importance as a legal precedent, a guiding authority, and a basis for linking newdecisions to old, Marbury v. Madison ranks as one of the most important cases in all Supreme Court history.(7) Justbefore President John Adams' term expired, in addition to creating the sixteen new judgeships, he also created variousother offices for attorneys, marshals, and clerks. Knowing that the Constitution assured federal judges life tenure andprotected them from arbitrary dismissal, Adams rushed to fill the Supreme Court bench with strict Federalists.(8) Thenominations were then confirmed by the Federalist Senate and the required commissions were signed and sealed, butsome of them remained on the desk of President John Adams and were not delivered by then Secretary of State JohnMarshall. When Jefferson was inaugurated, he directed James Madison as the new Secretary of State to deliver twenty-five of the commissions appointed by Adams but to withhold seventeen other commissions.(9) Among the commissionswithheld were those of Dennis Ramsay, Robert Townsend Hooe, William Harper, and William Marbury.(10) These fourmen applied to the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus, an order issued by a court of superior jurisdiction anddirected to a public official instructing the latter to fulfill an obligation imposed by law, in an attempt to force SecretaryMadison into delivering the commissions.(11) The other thirteen men did not file suit, apparently considering the officeof justice of the peace to be too insignificant to become involved in a legal battle.(12)Why these men waited almost ten months after Jefferson's inauguration before beginning suit against James Madisonis unknown. Perhaps they hoped that Jefferson would reappoint them, as he was doing with the majority of the Adams'appointees to justice of the peace positions within their districts. Possibly there were personal causes for the delay, suchas difficulty in appearing before a judge, or perhaps they decided to wait until the Supreme Court was in session inWashington. Also, there was speculation that Federalist politicians had persuaded Marbury to take judicial action inhopes of embarrassing the Jefferson administration or possibly to secure a few more justices for the Federalist Party.(13)Whatever the reason, the case first came before the Supreme Court justices on December 21, 1801. On this day,attorney Charles Lee appeared to seek a writ of mandamus to order Secretary Madison to deliver the commissions of Ramsay, Hooe, Harper, and Marbury.(14) When Madison ignored the Court's ruling, Lee and the four men herepresented attempted to prove that they had actually been appointed to office. In February of 1803, Lee and his clientspetitioned the Senate to permit copies of their appointments to be taken from the Senate Executive journal. However,the Republican majority argued that this would be an invasion of Senate and Executive privacy.(15) Thus, tempers werehot by the time the Supreme Court finally met on February 9, 1803, to begin the case.In addition to Chief Justice Marshall, only Justices Bushrod Washington and Samuel Chase heard the case, and theChief Justice dominated the proceedings. Lee, the plaintiffs' lawyer, had the task of proving that the commissions hadbeen completed by Adams and Marshall and demonstrating that the Court had the authority to force Madison to issuethem.(16) The first two witnesses summoned by Lee were Chief Clerk Jacob Wagner and Daniel Brent, Federalist
remnants who had served in the State Department. Both men objected to being sworn in because "they were not boundto disclose any facts relating to the business or transactions in the office."(17) Marshall ordered the clerks to be swornin, however, and to give written answers. The Court did recognize their right to state objections to questions which wereimproper or too private to answer. Both disclosed many details about what had happened at the State Department inMarch of 1801, but they were both unsure of whether or not the commissions had been signed.Next, Lee called Attorney General Levi Lincoln, who objected greatly to testifying. Lincoln appeared to be tornbetween his respect for the jurisdiction of the Court and the rights of the Executive branch.(18) Lincoln asked the Courtto submit the questions posed to him in writing and that he be given until the following day to respond to them.The next day, February 10, Lincoln answered all but one of the questions. The exception was: "What has been donewith the commission?"(19) Lincoln recalled that there had been many commissions that had been signed and sealed, buthe did not recall any being sent to the appointees.Despite the three reluctant witnesses, Lee was able to show through affidavits submitted by another clerk and byJohn Marshall, in his previous capacity as Secretary of State, that the commissions had indeed been signed and sealed.At this point, the arguments for the case were finished, and on February 24, Chief Justice John Marshall would deliver hisopinion for the Supreme Court.Marshall faced a serious decision, not only for himself, but for the future of the Supreme Court. If Marshalloverstepped his power, he could face impeachment. If he backed down, the little prestige the Supreme Court possessedwould be reduced to nothing. As he considered Marbury v. Madison after the close of the hearings, he must haverealized that he was in a predicament.(20) Both political partisanship and his sense of justice prompted him to issue thewrit sought by Marbury and the other three men, but what kind of effect would the mandamus have if he ordered itproduced?(21) Most likely, Madison would ignore it, and Jefferson would support him. At that time, Jefferson was at theheight of his popularity. To issue a writ would be an act of defiance which could possibly trigger impeachmentproceedings against Marshall. This would destroy Marshall and the Court. Thus, it appeared that, no matter whatdecision Marshall announced that he would hurt himself, the Court, and the Federalist Party.(22)At some point between the close of the hearings on February 11 and Marshall's announcement on February 24, hearrived at a solution. Marshall viewed the issue as a conflict between the Court and the President. The problem was howto check the President without exposing the Court to his might.(23) By rearranging the main issues of the case, Marshalldeclared that the President had no right to hold the commissions. He also asserted that Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, under which Marbury had brought suit, was unconstitutional; therefore, the Court was powerless to help him. ByMarshall's authority, he extended his powers, because no act of Congress had ever been declared unconstitutional.(24)Marshall delivered a stern warning to the Jeffersonians, whose entire administration was to be subjected to judicialreview by none other than its most powerful enemy, the Supreme Court.(25) At the very end of the decision, Marshallstated:

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