Marbury v.

Madison (1803)
Historical Background
The Constitution called for the creation of a federal government with the following three branches, or parts: legislative, executive, and
judiciary. Article I created Congress, the legislative, or lawmaking, body. Article II established the office of the President, who executes, or
carries out, the laws. Article III created the federal court system consisting of one Supreme Court and other lower courts.
As with most aspects of the U.S. Constitution, the meaning of Article III was left open to interpretation. In 1789, shortly after the Constitution
was ratified, Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789, which established the federal court system. Congress created a Supreme Court,
three circuit courts, and 13 district courts. There was one district court for each of the 13 states.
The Constitution did not specify the number of justices that could be appointed to the Supreme Court. Through the Judiciary Act, though,
Congress provided for a Chief Justice and five Associate Justices. However, the Constitution and Congress left the scope of the Court's
power undefined. These powers would gradually be defined through the Court's interpretation of the Constitution in particular cases.
The earliest Chief Justices had very little impact on the direction of the Supreme Court. But John Marshall, who served from 1801 to 1835,
influenced the action of the Supreme Court in ways still felt in the United States today. Early in Marshall's term as Chief Justice, a seemingly
insignificant case came before the Supreme Court. However, that case, Marbury v. Madison, became one of the most important Supreme
Court decisions in United States history.
Circumstances of the Case
In November 1800, President John Adams, a Federalist, lost his bid for reelection to Thomas Jefferson, a Republican. The Federalists also
lost control of Congress in the election. For the few months before the new President and Congress took office, however, Adams and his
Federalist Party still had control.
During these months, Adams persuaded Congress to pass a new law, the Judiciary Act of 1801. This act gave Adams the power to appoint
several new federal judges. The Federalists hoped to fill the nation's courts with people who would be opposed to the policies of the incoming
Republican administration.
Adams was generally successful in this effort, appointing some 39 new judges. Adams's Secretary of State was to deliver the commissions,
or official documents authorizing the appointments. The Secretary of State, though, failed to deliver the commissions to three new justices of
the peace before Adams's term of office ended. One of the commissions was to go to William Marbury.
When Thomas Jefferson became President in March 1801, he learned of Adams's attempt to pack the court with Federalist judges. He also
discovered the failure to deliver the remaining commissions. To prevent these Federalists from becoming justices of the peace, Jefferson
instructed his Secretary of State, James Madison, to refuse the appointments.
Marbury went to the Supreme Court in an attempt to gain his post. He wanted the Court to issue an order forcing Madison to give Marbury
his commission. The Judiciary Act of 1789 had given the Supreme Court the power to issue such an order.
The Court's Decision
In a unanimous decision, written by Justice Marshall, the Court stated that Marbury, indeed, had a right to his commission. But, more
importantly, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional. In Marshall's opinion, Congress could not give the Supreme Court the power to
issue an order granting Marbury his commission. Only the Constitution could, and the document said nothing about the Supreme Court
having the power to issue such an order. Thus, the Supreme Court could not force Jefferson and Madison to appoint Marbury, because it did
not have the power to do so.
While Marbury never became a justice of the peace, the Court's ruling in Marbury v. Madison established a very important precedent. A
precedent is a legal decision that serves as an example in later court cases. Chief Justice Marshall's ruling interpreted the Constitution to
mean that the Supreme Court had the power of judicial review. That is, the Court had the right to review acts of Congress and, by extension,
actions of the President. If the Court found that a law was unconstitutional, it could overrule the law. Marshall argued that the Constitution is
the “supreme law of the land” and that the Supreme Court has the final say over the meaning of the Constitution. He wrote, “lt is emphatically
the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”

Those who apply the rule to particular cases must. Does Marbury have a right to the commission? 2.Summary of Marbury v. 137. The Supreme Court does not have original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus. and those in which a state shall be a party. of necessity. Does the Supreme Court have original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus? Holding and Rule (Marshall) 1. appointed Marbury a justice of the peace in the District of Columbia. a refusal to deliver which is a plain violation of that right for which the laws of the country afford him a remedy. Marbury applied directly to the Supreme Court of the United States for a writ of mandamus to compel Jefferson’s Secretary of State. Can Congress expand the scope of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction beyond what is specified in Article III of the Constitution? 5. or to be necessary to enable them to exercise appellate jurisdiction. 5. If Congress remains at liberty to give this court appellate jurisdiction where the Constitution has declared their jurisdiction shall be original. and original jurisdiction where the Constitution has declared it shall be appellate. to deliver the commissions. The seal of the United States. the Constitution. The commissions were signed by President Adams and sealed by acting Secretary of State John Marshall (who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and author of this opinion). President John Adams named forty-two justices of the peace and sixteen new circuit court justices for the District of Columbia under the Organic Act. Yes. Congress cannot expand the scope of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction beyond what is specified in Article III of the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson refused to honor the commissions. Does the law grant Marbury a remedy? 3. it must be shown to be an exercise of appellate jurisdiction. The Constitution states that “the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction in all cases affecting ambassadors. In all other cases. Where a specific duty is assigned by law. The Judiciary Act of 1789 had granted the Supreme Court original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus “…to any courts appointed. is conclusive testimony of the verity of the signature. No. If two laws conflict with each other. he has a consequent right to the commission. the Court must decide on the operation of each. If courts are to regard the Constitution. is form without substance. claiming that they were invalid because they had not been delivered by the end of Adams’s term. this section is mere surplusage and is entirely without meaning. must govern the case to which they both apply. Facts On his last day in office. The law grants Marbury a remedy. William Marbury (P) was an intended recipient of an appointment as justice of the peace. Yes. One of the first duties of government is to afford that protection.The very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of every individual to claim the protection of the laws whenever he receives an injury. James Madison (D). Madison. 3. and of the completion of the appointment. the individual who considers himself injured has a right to resort to the law for a remedy. Having this legal right to the office. 2. The Supreme Court has the authority to review acts of Congress and determine whether they are unconstitutional and therefore void. 1 Cranch 137. or persons holding office. under the authority of the United States. It is emphatically the duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is. 2 L. 5 U. The grant of the commission to Marbury became effective when signed by President Adams. and the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature. affixed thereto by the Secretary of State. and does not . and the power has been exercised when the last act required from the person possessing the power has been performed. Marbury has a right to the commission. but they were not delivered before the expiration of Adams’s term as president. Does the Supreme Court have the authority to review acts of Congress and determine whether they are unconstitutional and therefore void? 4. To enable this court then to issue a mandamus. and individual rights depend upon the performance of that duty. and not such ordinary act. 4. No. other public ministers and consuls. The President. the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction. The order granting the commission takes effect when the Executive’s constitutional power of appointment has been exercised. Ed.” Issues 1. expound and interpret the rule. It is the essential criterion of appellate jurisdiction that it revises and corrects the proceedings in a cause already instituted.” If it had been intended to leave it in the discretion of the Legislature to apportion the judicial power between the Supreme and inferior courts according to the will of that body. the distribution of jurisdiction made in the Constitution.S. The Organic Act was an attempt by the Federalists to take control of the federal judiciary before Thomas Jefferson took office. Yes. by signing the commission. 60 (1803).

Marbury doesn’t get the commission. the same as to sustain an original action for that paper. in effect. a mandamus may be directed to courts. . Although.create that case. Disposition Application for writ of mandamus denied. See Ex Parte McCardle for a constitutional law case brief holding that that the Constitution gives Congress the express power to make exceptions to the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction. therefore. yet to issue such a writ to an officer for the delivery of a paper is. and is therefore a matter of original jurisdiction.

” The decision concluded “a law repugnant to the Constitution is void.S. Beginning in the early 20th Century. however. The whole point of a written Constitution. Madison a central text for understanding the role of the Courts to interpret law in light of the Constitution. Marshall also asserted that the courts had the responsibility to understand and articulate what the Constitution means: “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. the Constitution is written. known as judicial review. As judicial review was seldom exercised prior to the 20th century. and courts.” .Judicial Review or Judicial Activism? Marbury v. Supreme Court declared an act of Congress to be unconstitutional. saying that it was the “paramount law of the nation” and that it constrained the actions of all three branches of the national government.) In his opinion. Madison (1803) was the first time the U. then “the very essence of judicial duty” was to follow the Constitution. (The case concerned a section of the Judiciary Act of 1789. the Court began striking down federal laws more Activity The case of Marbury v. In this month’s Landmark Supreme Court Cases and the Constitution. Chief Justice John Marshall relied almost exclusively on the specific language of the Constitution. and [so] that those limits may not be mistaken or forgotten. ” In cases where a law conflicted with the Constitution. It is the centerpiece of many constitutional law classes. we spotlight the case of Marbury v. as well as other departments. Student Handout (PDF) Teacher Key Resources    Marbury v. Madison (1803). was to ensure that government stayed within its prescribed limits: “The powers of the Legislature are defined and limited. are bound by that instrument. Madison (1803) Summary Legal scholars consider Marbury v. Madison (1803) from the Bill of Rights Institute’s Americapedia Article III of the Constitution from the Bill of Rights Institute’s Americapedia Brutus Essays from Constitution. Marshall asserted. Proponents of judicial review pointed to Chief Justice John Marshall’s decision in Marbury as a source supporting the view that the Supreme Court has the final say on what the Constitution means. the case was cited exclusively for its discussion of the particular issues of the case for the first century after it was handed down. Marshall wrote.

the Supreme Court has had frequent opportunities to exercise its power of judicial review. however. 2. Madison (1803)? What did he call the “very essence of judicial duty”? The First Congress was overwhelmingly made up of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention and state Ratifying Conventions. the Court began striking down federal laws more often than ever before. Comprehension and Critical Thinking Questions 1. Madison decision. Sanford (1857). Madison. Does Marshall’s ruling support the argument that the Supreme Court alone— and not other branches of the national government—have the final say on what the Constitution means? Why or why not? . What would be some advantages and disadvantages of this arrangement? Extension Have students read the Marbury v. To what degree. 5. 3. It was the First Congress which passed the law at issue in Marbury v. Proponents of judicial review pointed to Chief Justice John Marshall’s decision in Marbury as a source supporting the view that the Supreme Court has the final say on what the Constitution means. as the powers of the national government have expanded and as more and more state laws became subject to federal review (as a result of the Fourteenth Amendment and the incorporation of the protections of the Bill of Rights against the states). president of the Constitutional Convention. some have asserted that states (and not the Supreme Court) are the rightful judges of whether a law is constitutional.The Supreme Court did not declare another act of Congress unconstitutional until it struck down the Missouri Compromise in Dred Scott v. 4. if any. signed it into law. can the actions of the First Congress and President help citizens understand the meaning of the Constitution? How else can citizens understand it? Does the power of judicial review necessary lead to judicial supremacy? Throughout American history. Since then. The power of judicial review was used sparingly for the next several decades. Beginning in the early 20th Century. What did John Marshall say was the chief purpose of written constitutions in Marbury v. George Washington.