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Marbury v.

Madison February 1803 – US Supreme Court FACTS: William Marbury is seeking to compel James Madison, Secretary of the State, by a petition for a writ of mandamus, grant of his commission alleging that he had been appointed by the President as a Justice of the Peace in Columbia. The Court had established the right of Marbury to the commission upon finding that the nomination and appointment of the latter was valid as it followed the process of appointment prescribed by the Constitution. Marbury is now asking for the execution of his commission which is allegedly a duty of the Secretary of State. ISSUE: 1. 2. WON the proper remedy in this case is a petition for writ of mandamus to compel the Secretary to execute the commission WON the Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to issue the writ of mandamus prayed for

HELD: Yes; No RATIO: 1. The Court ruled that the petition for a writ of mandamus is the proper remedy and is available to the petitioner. 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. One of the first duties of government is to afford that protection. It is a general and undisputable rule that where there is a legal right, there is also a legal remedy by suit or action at law whenever that right is invaded. Political Question? The question whether the legality of an act of the head of a department be examinable in a court of justice or not must always depend on the nature of that act. By the Constitution of the United States, the President is invested with certain important political powers which he is to use his own discretion, and is accountable only to his country in his political character and to his own conscience. To aid him in the performance of these duties, he is authorized to appoint certain officers, who act by his authority and in conformity with his orders. In cases where the acts of an officer are pursuant to his duty to represent the president, no other branch of the government has the power to control that discretion. The subjects are POLITICAL. But when the Legislature proceeds to impose on that officer other duties; when he is directed peremptorily to perform certain acts; when the rights of individuals are dependent on the performance of those acts; he is so far the officer of the law, is amenable to the laws for his conduct, and cannot at his discretion, sport away the vested rights of others.


Applying the aforementioned rules, the Court ruled that the power of nominating to the Senate and the power of appointing are political powers to be exercised by the President according to his own discretion. When he has made an appointment, he has exercised his whole power, and his discretion has been completely applied to the case. If the officer is by law not removable at the will of the President, the rights he has acquired are protected by the law, as in the case at bar. Consequently, the right of Marbury to the commission is a right that he may legally enforce and as it is protected by the law, a refusal to deliver which is a plain violation of that right, for which the laws of his country afford him a remedy. Remedy: Mandamus? Mandamus is defined in this case (Blackstone) to be a command issued in the name of the Court and is directed to any person, corporation, or inferior court of judicature dominions requiring them to do some particular thing therein specified which appertains to their office and duty, and which the Court has previously determined, or at least supposes, to be consonant to right and justice.

ordain and establish. it has already been established that the applicant has. but the nature of the thing to be done. However. the power remains to the Legislature to assign original jurisdiction to that Court in other cases that those specified in the article provided those cases belong to the judicial power of the US. that will must be obeyed. the officer to whom it is to be directed must be one to whom. it must issue in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction. Accordingly it is said that: o “The Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction in all cases affecting ambassadors. It is not by the office of the person to whom the writ is directed. that the propriety or impropriety of issuing a mandamus is to be determined. perform a service. or exercise a franchise and a person is kept out of possession. and the person applying for it must be without any other specific and legal remedy.” The petitioner alleges that as the original grant of jurisdiction is general and contained to restrictive words. the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction. or dispossessed of such right. To render the mandamus a proper remedy. is in reality effectual. however. in practice. notwithstanding the express prohibition. mandates the court to close their eyes on the Constitution. It would declare that. For a law to alter or in any way add a case of original jurisdiction to those that are mentioned in the Constitution would. It would declare that an act which. from time to time. and has no other specific legal remedy. the 2nd sentence of the article would appear to be a mere surplusage and without meaning or operation at all. This is the very essence of judicial duty. o Appellate Jurisdiction . not original. it must be shown to be an exercise of appellate jurisdiction. This construction should therefore not be entertained. But for the SC to issue such writ. In all other cases. Court’s Jurisdiction The Constitution vests the whole judicial power of the United States in one Supreme Court. and those in which a state shall be a party. This would subvert the very foundation of all written Constitutions. on legal principles. It has been stated at the bar that the appellate jurisdiction may be exercised in a variety of revises and corrects the proceedings in a cause already instituted. - - - Written Constitution It is the duty of the Court to say what the law is. to that commission. This is true. if the Legislature shall do what is expressly forbidden. is entirely void. The Court is bound to regard the Constitution as the superior to any ordinary act of the Legislature. o Original Jurisdiction – those that are vested by the Constitution. a vested legal right of which the Executive cannot deprive him. and such inferior courts as Congress shall. . such act. yet. or to be necessary to enable them to exercise appellate jurisdiction. To enable this court then to issue a mandamus. and that. such writ may be directed. and does not create that case. other public ministers and consuls. this court ought to assist by mandamus. It is not to be taken. It is true that the mandamus moved for in this case is not for the performance of an act expressly enjoined by statute. that the SC cannot issue a mandamus. according to the principles and theory of our government.- - - Whenever there is a right to execute an office. if it be the will of the Legislature that a mandamus should be used for that purpose. in effect. completely obligatory. yet the jurisdiction must be appellate. o If the provision would be read in this manner.

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