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''Marbury v. Madison'', 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803), was a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that established the principle of
judicial review in the United States In the United States, judicial review is the legal power of a court A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to Adjudication, adjudicate legal disputes between Party (law), parties and carry ...
, meaning that American courts have the power to strike down laws, statutes, and some government actions that they find to violate the
Constitution of the United States The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primar ...
. Decided in 1803, ''Marbury'' remains the single most important decision in American constitutional law. The Court's landmark decision established that the U.S. Constitution is actual law, not just a statement of political principles and ideals, and helped define the boundary between the constitutionally separate
executive Executive may refer to: Role, title, or function * Executive (government), branch of government that has authority and responsibility for the administration of state bureaucracy * Executive, a senior management role in an organization ** Chief exec ...
and
judicial The judiciary (also known as the judicial system, judicature, judicial branch, judiciative branch, and court or judiciary system) is the system of court A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authori ...

judicial
branches of the
federal government A federation (also known as a federal state) is a political entity characterized by a union of partially self-governing provinces, states, or other regions under a central federal government ( federalism). In a federation, the self-gover ...
. The case originated in early 1801 as part of the political and ideological rivalry between outgoing
President President most commonly refers to: *President (corporate title) A president is a leader of an organization, company, community, club, trade union, university or other group. The relationship between a president and a Chief Executive Officer, chi ...
John Adams John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, attorney, diplomat, writer, and Founding Fathers of the United States, Founding Father who served as the second president of the United States from 1797 to 1801. Before ...

John Adams
and incoming President
Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809. He had previously served ...

Thomas Jefferson
. Adams had lost the U.S. presidential election of 1800 to Jefferson, and in March 1801, just two days before his term as president ended, Adams appointed several dozen
Federalist Party The Federalist Party was the first political party in the United States. Under Alexander Hamilton, it dominated the national government from 1789 to 1801. It became a minority party while keeping its stronghold in New England and made a brief ...
supporters to new circuit judge and
justice of the peace A justice of the peace (JP) is a judicial officer of a lower or '' puisne'' court, elected or appointed by means of a commission (letters patent) to keep the peace. In past centuries the term commissioner of the peace was often used with the sam ...
positions in an attempt to frustrate Jefferson and his supporters in the
Democratic-Republican Party The Democratic-Republican Party, better known at the time under various other names, was an American political party founded by Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, diplomat, l ...
. The U.S. Senate quickly confirmed Adams's appointments, but upon Adams' departure and Jefferson's inauguration a few of the new judges' commissions still had not been delivered. Jefferson believed the commissions were void because they had not been delivered in time, and instructed his new Secretary of State,
James Madison James Madison Jr. (March 16, 1751June 28, 1836) was an American statesman, diplomat, expansionist, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the fourth president of the United States from 1809 to 1817. He is hailed as the "Father of th ...

James Madison
, not to deliver them. One of the men whose commissions had not been delivered in time was William Marbury, a Maryland businessman who had been a strong supporter of Adams and the Federalists. In late 1801, after Madison had repeatedly refused to deliver his commission, Marbury filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court asking the Court to issue a writ of mandamus forcing Madison to deliver his commission. In an opinion written by Chief Justice of the United States, Chief Justice John Marshall, the Court held firstly that Madison's refusal to deliver Marbury's commission was illegal, and secondly that it was normally proper for a court in such situations to order the government official in question to deliver the commission. But in Marbury's case, the Court did not order Madison to comply. Examining the section of the law Congress had passed that gave the Supreme Court jurisdiction over types of cases like Marbury's, Marshall found that it had expanded the definition of the Supreme Court's jurisdiction beyond what was originally set down in the United States Constitution, U.S. Constitution. Marshall then struck down that section of the law, announcing that American courts have the power to invalidate laws that they find to violate the Constitution. Because this meant the Court had no jurisdiction over the case, it could not issue the writ that Marbury had requested.


Background

In the fiercely contested U.S. presidential election of 1800, the three main candidates were
Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809. He had previously served ...

Thomas Jefferson
, Aaron Burr, and the incumbent president,
John Adams John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, attorney, diplomat, writer, and Founding Fathers of the United States, Founding Father who served as the second president of the United States from 1797 to 1801. Before ...

John Adams
. Adams was aligned with the pro-business and pro-national government politics of Alexander Hamilton and the
Federalist Party The Federalist Party was the first political party in the United States. Under Alexander Hamilton, it dominated the national government from 1789 to 1801. It became a minority party while keeping its stronghold in New England and made a brief ...
, while Jefferson and Burr were part of the opposing
Democratic-Republican Party The Democratic-Republican Party, better known at the time under various other names, was an American political party founded by Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, diplomat, l ...
, which favored agriculture and decentralization. American public opinion had gradually turned against the Federalists in the months prior to the election, mainly due to their use of the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, as well as growing tensions with Kingdom_of_Great_Britain, Great Britain, with whom the Federalists favored close ties. Jefferson easily won the popular vote, but only narrowly defeated Adams in the Electoral College (United States), Electoral College. As the results of the election became clear in early 1801, Adams and the Federalists became determined to exercise their influence in the weeks remaining before Jefferson took office, and did all they could to fill federal offices with "anti-Jeffersonians" who were loyal to the Federalists. On March 2, 1801, just two days before his presidential term ended, Adams nominated nearly 60 Federalist supporters to United States circuit court, circuit judge and
justice of the peace A justice of the peace (JP) is a judicial officer of a lower or '' puisne'' court, elected or appointed by means of a commission (letters patent) to keep the peace. In past centuries the term commissioner of the peace was often used with the sam ...
positions the Federalist-controlled Congress had newly created with the Judiciary Act of 1801. These last-minute nomineeswhom Jefferson's supporters derisively referred to as the "Midnight Judges"included William Marbury, a prosperous businessman from Maryland. An ardent Federalist, Marbury was active in Maryland politics and had been a vigorous supporter of the Adams presidency. The following day, March 3, the United States Senate, Senate approved Adams's nominations ''en masse''. The appointees' commissions were immediately written out, then signed by Adams and sealed by his Secretary of State, John Marshall, who had been named the new Chief Justice of the United States, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in January but continued also serving as Secretary of State for the remainder of Adams's term. Marshall then dispatched his younger brother James Markham Marshall to deliver the commissions to the appointees. With only one day left before Jefferson's inauguration, James Marshall was able to deliver most of the commissions, but a fewincluding Marbury'swere not delivered. The day after, March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson was sworn in and became the third President of the United States. As soon as he was able, Jefferson instructed his new Secretary of State,
James Madison James Madison Jr. (March 16, 1751June 28, 1836) was an American statesman, diplomat, expansionist, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the fourth president of the United States from 1809 to 1817. He is hailed as the "Father of th ...

James Madison
, to withhold the undelivered appointments. In Jefferson's opinion, the commissions were void because they had not been delivered in time. Without the commissions, the appointees were unable to assume the offices and duties to which they had been appointed. Over the next several months, Madison continually refused to deliver Marbury's commission to him. Finally, in December 1801, Marbury filed suit against Madison in the Supreme Court of the United States, U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Court to issue a writ of mandamus forcing Madison to deliver his commission. This lawsuit resulted in the case of ''Marbury v. Madison''.


Decision

On February 24, 1803, the Court rendered a unanimous 4–0 decision against Marbury. The Court's opinion was written by the Chief Justice, John Marshall. Marshall structured the Court's opinion around a series of three questions that Marshall answered in turn: * First, did Marbury have a right to his commission? * Second, if Marbury had a right to his commission, was there a legal remedy for him to obtain it? * Third, if there was such a remedy, could the Supreme Court legally issue it?


Marbury's commission

First, Marshall wrote that Marbury had a right to his commission because all appropriate procedures were followed: the commission had been properly signed and sealed. Madison contended that the commissions were void if not delivered, but the Court disagreed, and said that the delivery of the commission was merely a custom, not an essential element of the commission itself. Because Marbury's commission was valid, Marshall wrote, Madison's withholding of it was "violative of a vested legal right" on Marbury's part.


Marbury's legal remedy

Turning to the second question, the Court said that the laws clearly afforded Marbury a remedy. Marshall wrote that "it is a general and indisputable 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." This rule derives from the traditional Roman legal maxim ("where there is a legal right, there is a legal remedy"), which was well established in the early Common law, Anglo-American common law. In what the American legal scholar Akhil Amar called "one of the most important and inspiring passages" of the opinion, Marshall wrote: Marshall then confirmed that a writ of mandamusa type of court order that commands a government official to perform an act he or she is legally required to performwas the proper remedy for Marbury's situation. But this raised the issue of whether the Court, which was part of the judicial branch of the government, had the power to command Madison, who as Secretary of State was part of the executive branch of the government. The Court held that so long as the remedy involved a mandatory duty to a specific person, and not a political matter left to discretion, the courts could provide the legal remedy. Borrowing a phrase John Adams had drafted in 1779 for the Constitution of Massachusetts, Massachusetts State Constitution, Marshall wrote: "The government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men."


The Supreme Court's jurisdiction

This brought Marshall to the third question: Whether the Supreme Court had proper jurisdiction over the case, which would determine whether or not the Court had the power to issue the writ Marbury requested. This issue depended entirely on how the Court interpreted the text of the Judiciary Act of 1789. Congress had passed this Act to establish the American federal court system, since the U.S. Constitution itself only mandates a Supreme Court and leaves the rest of the U.S. federal judicial power to reside in "such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." Section 13 of the Judiciary Act deals with the Supreme Court's original and appellate jurisdictions. As Marshall explains in the opinion, under , a court has the power to be the first to hear and decide a case; under , a court has the power to hear a party's appeal from a lower court's decision and to "revise and correct" the previous decision. Marbury had argued that the language of Section 13 of the Judiciary Act gave the Supreme Court the authority to issue writs of mandamus when hearing cases under original jurisdiction, not just appellate jurisdiction. Although the language on the power to issue writs of mandamus appears with the sentence on appellate jurisdiction, rather than with the earlier sentences on original jurisdiction, a semicolon separates it from the specific clause on appellate jurisdiction. The section itself does not make clear whether the mandamus clause was intended to be read as part of the appellate sentence or on its own – in the opinion, Marshall quoted only the end of the section – and the law's wording can plausibly be read either way. The Court agreed with Marbury, and interpreted section 13 of the Judiciary Act to authorize mandamus on original jurisdiction. But as Marshall's opinion then pointed out, this meant that the Judiciary Act clashed with Article III of the United States Constitution, Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes the judicial branch of the U.S. government. Article III defines the Supreme Court's jurisdiction as follows: This section of the Constitution says that the Supreme Court only has original jurisdiction over cases where a U.S. State is a party to a lawsuit or where a lawsuit involves foreign dignitaries. Neither of these categories covered Marbury's lawsuit, which was a dispute over a writ of mandamus for his justice of the peace commission. So, according to the Constitution, the Court could only have heard Marbury's case while exercising appellate jurisdiction over an appeal, not under original jurisdiction over a lawsuit directly filed with it, as Marbury had done. But per Marshall's earlier interpretation, Section 13 of the Judiciary Act said that the Supreme Court ''did'' have original jurisdiction over mandamus cases like Marbury's. This meant that the Judiciary Act apparently took the Constitution's initial scope of the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction and expanded it to include cases involving writs of mandamus. Marshall ruled that Congress cannot increase the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction as it was set down in the Constitution, and therefore held that the relevant portion of Section 13 of the Judiciary Act violated Article III of the Constitution.


Judicial review and striking down the law

After ruling that it conflicted with the Constitution, the Court struck down the relevant portion of the Judiciary Act in the U.S. Supreme Court's first ever declaration of the power of judicial review. The Court ruled that American federal courts have the power to refuse to give any effect to congressional legislation that is inconsistent with their interpretation of the Constitutiona move known as "striking down" laws. The U.S. Constitution does not explicitly give the American judiciary the power of judicial review. Nevertheless, Marshall's opinion gives a number of reasons in support of the judiciary's possession of the power. First, Marshall reasoned that the written nature of the Constitution inherently established judicial review. In a line borrowed from Alexander Hamilton's essay ''Federalist No. 78'', Marshall wrote: "The powers of the legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken or forgotten, the constitution is written." He continued: "Certainly all those who have framed written constitutions contemplate them as forming the fundamental and paramount law of the nation, and consequently the theory of every such government must be, that an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void." Second, Marshall declared that deciding the constitutionality of the laws it applies is an inherent part of the American judiciary's role. In what has become the most famous and frequently quoted line of the opinion, Marshall wrote: Marshall reasoned that the Constitution places limits on the American government's powers, and that those limits would be meaningless unless they were subject to judicial review and enforcement. He reasoned that the Constitution's provisions limiting Congress's powersuch as the export tax clause, or the prohibitions on bills of attainder and ex post facto law, ''ex post facto'' lawsmeant that in some cases judges would be forced to choose between enforcing the Constitution or following Congress. In his opinion, the dilemma was not difficult: "The question whether an act repugnant to the Constitution can become the law of the land is a question deeply interesting to the United States, but, happily, not of an intricacy proportioned to its interest." He held "virtually as a matter of iron logic" that in the event of conflict between the Constitution and statutory laws passed by Congress, the constitutional law must be supreme. Again borrowing from Federalist No. 78, Marshall stated: Third, Marshall stated that denying the supremacy of the Constitution over Congress's acts would mean that "courts must close their eyes on the constitution, and see only the law." And this, he said, would make Congress omnipotent, since none of the laws it passed would ever be invalid: Marshall then gave several other reasons in favor of judicial review. He argued that the authorization in Article III of the Constitution that the Court can decide cases arising "under this Constitution" implied that the Court had the power to strike down laws conflicting with the Constitution. This, Marshall wrote, meant that the Founders were willing to have the American judiciary use and interpret the Constitution when judging cases. He also argued that federal judges' oaths of office—in which they swear to discharge their duties impartially and "agreeably to the Constitution and laws of the United States"—requires them to support the Constitution. Lastly, Marshall argued that judicial review is implied in Article Six of the United States Constitution, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, since it declares that the supreme law of the United States is the Constitution and laws made "in Pursuance thereof", rather than the Constitution and all federal laws equally. Having given his list of reasons, Marshall concluded the Court's opinion by reaffirming the Court's ruling of the jurisdiction law's invalidity and, therefore, the Court's inability to issue Marbury's writ of mandamus.


Analysis


Political dilemma

Besides its inherent legal questions, the case of ''Marbury v. Madison'' also created a difficult political dilemma for Marshall and the Supreme Court itself. If the Court had ruled in favor of Marbury and issued a writ of mandamus ordering Madison to deliver Marbury's commission, Jefferson and Madison would probably have simply ignored it, which would have made the Court look impotent and emphasized the "shakiness" of the judiciary. On the other hand, a plain and simple ruling against Marbury would have given Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans a clear political victory. Marshall avoided both problems and solved the dilemma. First, he ruled that Madison's withholding of Marbury's commission was illegal, which pleased the Federalists. However, he ultimately held that the Court could not give Marbury his requested writ of mandamus, which gave Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans the result they desired. But, in what the American legal scholar Laurence Tribe described as "an oft-told tale ... [that] remains awe-inspiring", Marshall ruled against Marbury in a way that maneuvered Marbury's simple petition for a writ of mandamus into a case that presented a question that went to the heart of American constitutional law itself. In his history of the Supreme Court, the American political historian Robert G. McCloskey wrote: Marshall had been looking for a case that was suitable for introducing judicial review, and was eager to use the situation in ''Marbury'' to establish his claim. He introduced judicial reviewa move Jefferson decriedbut used it to strike down a provision of a law that he read to have expanded the Supreme Court's powers, and thereby produced Jefferson's hoped-for result of Marbury losing his case. Marshall "seized the occasion to uphold the institution of judicial review, but he did so in the course of reaching a judgment that his political opponents could neither defy nor protest." Though Jefferson criticized Marshall's opinion, he accepted it, and Marshall's decision in ''Marbury'' "articulate[d] a role for the federal courts that survives to this day." The American legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky concluded: "The brilliance of Marshall's opinion cannot be overstated."


Criticism

Given its preeminent position in American constitutional law, Marshall's opinion in ''Marbury v. Madison'' continues to be the subject of critical analysis and historical inquiry. In a 1955 ''Harvard Law Review'' article, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter emphasized that one can criticize Marshall's opinion in ''Marbury'' without demeaning it: "The courage of ''Marbury v. Madison'' is not minimized by suggesting that its reasoning is not impeccable and its conclusion, however wise, not inevitable." Criticisms of Marshall's opinion in ''Marbury'' usually fall into two general categories. First, some criticize the way Marshall "strove" to reach the conclusion that the U.S. Supreme Court has constitutional authority over the other branches of the U.S. government. Today, American courts generally follow the principle of "constitutional avoidance": if a certain interpretation of a law raises constitutional problems, they prefer to use alternative interpretations that avoid these problems, so long as the alternative interpretations are still plausible. In ''Marbury'', Marshall could have avoided the constitutional questions through different legal rulings: for example, if he had ruled that Marbury did not have a right to his commission until it was delivered, or if he had ruled that refusals to honor political appointments could only be remedied through the political process and not the judicial process, it would have ended the case immediately, and the Court would not have reached the case's constitutional issues. Marshall did not do so, and many legal scholars have criticized him for it. However, others have noted that the "constitutional avoidance" principle did not exist in 1803, and in any case is "only a general guide for Court action", not an "ironclad rule". Alternatively, it has also been argued that the claim that Marshall "strove" to create a controversy largely vanishes when the case is viewed from the legal perspective of the late 18th century, when American colonies' and states' supreme courts were largely modeled on England's Court of King's Bench (England), Court of King's Bench, which inherently possessed ''mandamus'' powers. Second, Marshall's arguments for the Court's authority are sometimes said to be mere "series of assertions", rather than substantive reasons logically laid out to support his position. It is generally agreed that Marshall's series of assertions regarding the U.S. Constitution and the actions of the other branches of government do not "inexorably lead to the conclusion that Marshall draws from them." Marshall's assertion of the American judiciary's authority to review executive branch actions was the most controversial issue when ''Marbury'' was first decided, and several subsequent U.S. presidents have tried to dispute it, to varying degrees. Additionally, it is questionable whether Marshall should have participated in the ''Marbury'' case because of his participating role in the dispute. Marshall was still the acting Secretary of State when the nominations were made, and he himself had signed Marbury and the other men's commissions and had been responsible for their delivery. This potential conflict of interest raises strong grounds for Marshall to have recused himself from the case. In hindsight, the fact that Marshall did not recuse himself from ''Marbury'' is likely indicative of his eagerness to hear the case and use it to establish judicial review.


Legacy

''Marbury v. Madison'' remains the single most important decision in American constitutional law. It established American judges' authority to review the constitutionality of Congress's legislative acts, and to this day the Supreme Court's power to review the constitutionality of American laws at both the federal and state level "is generally rested upon the epic decision of ''Marbury v. Madison''." Although the Court's opinion in ''Marbury'' established judicial review in American federal law, it did not create or invent it. Some 18th-century British jurists had argued that British courts had the power to circumscribe Parliament of the United Kingdom, Parliament, and the principle became generally accepted in Colonial Americaespecially in Marshall's native Virginiadue to the idea that in America only the people were sovereign, rather than the government, and therefore that the courts should only implement legitimate laws. By the time of the Constitutional Convention (United States), Constitutional Convention in 1787, American courts' "independent power and duty to interpret the law" was well established, and Alexander Hamilton defended the concept of judicial review in ''The Federalist Papers, Federalist No. 78.'' Nevertheless, Marshall's opinion in ''Marbury'' was the power's first announcement and exercise by the Supreme Court. It made the practice more routine, rather than exceptional, and prepared the way for the Court's opinion in the 1819 case ''McCulloch v. Maryland'', in which Marshall implied that the Supreme Court was the supreme interpreter of the U.S. Constitution. ''Marbury'' also established that the power of judicial review covers actions by Federal government of the United States#Executive branch, the executive branch—the President, his cabinet members, and the departments and agencies they head. However, American courts' power of judicial review over executive branch actions only extends to matters in which the executive has a legal duty to act or refrain from acting, and does not extend to matters that are entirely within the President's discretion, such as whether to veto a bill or whom to appoint to an office. This power has been the basis of many subsequent important Supreme Court decisions in American history, such as the 1974 case ''United States v. Nixon'', in which the Court held that President Richard Nixon had to comply with a subpoena to provide tapes of his conversations for use in a criminal trial related to the Watergate scandal, and which ultimately led to Nixon's resignation. Although it is a potent check on the other branches of the U.S. government, federal courts rarely exercised the power of judicial review in early American history. After deciding ''Marbury'' in 1803, the Supreme Court did not strike down another federal law until 1857, when the Court struck down the Missouri Compromise in its now-infamous decision ''Dred Scott v. Sandford'', a ruling that contributed to the outbreak of the American Civil War.


See also

* ''Calder v. Bull'' * ''Hylton v. United States'' * Incorporation of the Bill of Rights * ''Martin v. Hunter's Lessee'' * ''Stuart v. Laird''


References


Notes


Citations


Works cited

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Further reading

* * (one introduction to the case) * (Claims that it is a mistake to read the case as claiming a judicial power to tell the President or Congress what they can or cannot do under the Constitution.) * * * James M. O'Fallon, ''The Case of Benjamin More: A Lost Episode in the Struggle over Repeal of the 1801 Judiciary Act'', 11 43 (1993). * * *


External links

*
Primary Documents in American History: ''Marbury v. Madison''
from the Library of Congress
"John Marshall, ''Marbury v. Madison'', and Judicial Review—How the Court Became Supreme"
Lesson plan for grades 9–12 from National Endowment for the Humanities
The 200th Anniversary of ''Marbury v. Madison'': The Reasons We Should Still Care About the Decision, and The Lingering Questions It Left Behind



The 200th Anniversary of ''Marbury v. Madison'': The Supreme Court's First Great Case


*
"Supreme Court Landmark Case ''Marbury v. Madison''"
from C-SPAN's ''Landmark Cases: Historic Supreme Court Decisions'' {{DEFAULTSORT:Marbury V. Madison 1803 in United States case law 6th United States Congress 19th-century American trials Legal history of the District of Columbia Presidency of Thomas Jefferson United States Constitution Article Three case law United States constitutional case law United States political question doctrine case law United States Supreme Court cases United States Supreme Court original jurisdiction cases United States Supreme Court cases of the Marshall Court