Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison, (5 U.S. 137 (1803) is a landmark case in American law where the U.S. Supreme Court established judicial review as a legitimate power of the Court on Constitutional grounds. Specifically, the Court ruled that it had the power to declare a statute void that it considered in contravention to the Constitution.
Marbury is such an important case in American law because it established the judiciary--and in particular, the Supreme Court--as an equal partner among the three branches of American government. After the Marbury decision the Court was able to significantly affect and even alter decisions made by the executive and legislative branches.
In the Presidential election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams, becoming the third U.S. President. Although the election was decided on February 17, Jefferson did not take office until March 4. Until that time, Adams and the Federalist-controlled Congress were still in power. Congress passed a new Judiciary Act, creating a number of new federalist courts.
On March 2, Adams appointed 42 Federalists to these courts while sitting as a lame duck less than a week before the end of his term. The following day, on March 3, the judges were approved by the Senate. One of these "Midnight Judges" was William Marbury, appointed to a position as Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia. At noon, Adams left office and Jefferson was inaugurated as President.
Marbury's commission, as well as that of others who were part of the lawsuit, was signed by Adams and John Marshall, his Secretary of State. As a complication of matters, Marshall had been appointed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on February 4, but had continued to act as Secretary of State until Jefferson was inaugurated. On March 3, Marshall became Chief Justice, and swore in Jefferson.
Jefferson treated as void the 42 commissions approved on Inauguration Day, including Marbury's, because they had not been officially delivered by day's end. He appointed James Madison as the new Secretary, and ordered him not to deliver the Marbury commission.
The question before the Court was threefold:
- Did Marbury have a right to the appointment?
- Do the laws of the country give Marbury a legal remedy?
- Is asking the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus (a type of specific performance) the correct legal remedy?
The court via Marshall held that Marbury had a valid commission, good for five years. The question was whether the law gave him a remedy. The answer to that question was yes, because the refusal to deliver his commission to Marbury violated his right for which there had to be a remedy. The question then shifted to whether the Supreme Court was entitled to provide that remedy.
In this case, Marbury brought the lawsuit directly in the Supreme Court, under the Judiciary Act of 1789. The requested remedy was an order directed against James Madison, the new Secretary of State and would require him (known as a writ of mandamus) to transmit the commission to Marbury.
In analyzing the case, Marshall (and the court) examined the Judiciary Act of 1789, which stated that the Supreme Court could "issue writs of mandamus in cases...to any persons holding office under the authority of the United States." The Constitution, the Supreme Court held, confined its original jurisdiction - the ability to hear cases in the first instance - to "all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state be a party. In all other cases the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction."
The Court, on February 24 1803, in a unanimous, 6-0 decision, held that Congress had no power to alter their original jurisdiction in this way and found unconstitutional the Judiciary Act of 1789. The opinion was particularly brilliant because it invalidated an act of Congress yet avoided a direct confrontation with the President because it did not have jurisdiction over the case and thus could not order the Secretary of State to deliver those commissions.
Sources and further reading
- Clinton, Robert Lowry. Marbury v. Madison and Judicial Review. University Press of Kansas: 1991. ISBN 0700605177.
- Marbury v. Madison. 448 U.S. 448. U.S. Supreme Court. 1803. 1 Cranch 137. http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/9.htm
- Nelson, William E. Marbury v. Madison: The Origins and Legacy of Judicial Review. University Press of Kansas: 2000. ISBN 0700610626.
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