Marbury V Madison




In 1800, President John Adams lost his bid for re-election. Thomas Jefferson was
voted in for the president. Adams, being a Federalist, disagreed with the beliefs of
Jefferson, a republican, and feared that he would shift the power in the government to the
states. To prevent this, Adams created many new judicial posts and filled them with
Federalists. He did this in quite a rush, being he was going to be out of office soon. All
the appointments were given to his Secretary of State to be sealed and delivered.
Secretary of State Marshall completed all the documents except for the ones for the
appointments for the District of Columbia. He assumed the next Secretary of State would
complete them. When Jefferson found out about this he was mad. He order the new
Secretary of State, James Madison, not to deliver the final appointments to the selected
judges. One of the judges that didn’t get his promised appointment was William
Marbury. Marbury decided to take action in court. Marbury’s argument was supported
by Section 13 of the Judiciary Act. This stated the courts could force an official to
perform an official duty. This is called a writ of mandamus. Marbury took this claim to
the Supreme Court. The Justice of the Supreme Court is now James Marshall, Adams’
old Secretary of State. If he issued the writ, Madison would ignore it and the court would
be perceived as powerless. If he didn’t issue it, people would think he was a traitor to his
Federalist party. On February 24, 1803 a decision was rendered. It stated that Marbury
was entitled to his appointment and that a court could issue a writ of madamus. He then
went on to say that Section 13 was contrary to Article III of the Constitution which said
that the Supreme Court had no original jurisdiction in the case. So a lesser court could
legally give the writ of Mandimus.
This case’s importance isn’t that William Marbury got his appointment as a judge
in D.C. but that the Supreme court had the right to declare laws and acts unconstitutional.
In this case Section 13 was considered conflicting with Article III and was therefore
unconstitutional. This case said that the Constitution is the supreme and binding law of
the land. It also pioneered a process, which after the Civil War was named Judicial
Review. Judicial Review is the power of a court to refuse to enforce a law that in the
opinion of the judges conflicts with the Constitution. This is considered by many to be
the most important Supreme Court decision ever. Its ramifications on modern day society
are immeasurable.
The belief of John Marshall and the other supreme court justices, that the
Supreme Court had the power to declare laws unconstitutional can be found in
Hamilton’s 78th Federalist Paper. In this paper Hamilton says that the Constitution is
law, and judges, not legislative or executives, should interpret the law. This is basically
the same thing Marshall stated on that February 24th. A day not as famous, as July 4th
but is right behind it, in being one of the most important days this country has had in
regards to its government.



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