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Marbury V. Madison

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Marbury v. Madison
The power that the Supreme Court has to determine the constitutionality and the validity of the acts of the executive and legislative branches of government is a firmly established basic element of the United States system of government. In 1803, Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in the case of Marbury v. Madison resulted in a landmark decision in the history of the Supreme Court. (Kramer, 2000) The court’s ruling established the power of judicial review, declared that the Constitution was the supreme law of the land, and that the Supreme Court has the final authority on interpreting the Constitution.
In the Election of 1801, Thomas Jefferson and his anti-federalist Republican Party defeated then President John Adams and the Federalist Party. The Republicans also won a majority in Congress. In an effort to keep at least one branch of the government under Federalist control before the Republicans took office, the Federalist controlled Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1801 in a lame-duck session (Marbury V. Madison, n.d.). The bill reformed a 1789 statute and created many new judgeships. Adams nominated judges and the Senate confirmed them. Adams then stayed up until long after midnight on March 3, 1801, his last full day in office, signing commissions that put fifty-nine loyal Federalists in office. These were the so-called "midnight judges." (Kramer, 2000)
In the final weeks before Jefferson took office, John Marshall was Secretary of State and Chief Justice simultaneously. As Secretary of State, he had the task of delivering these commissions. In the press of business, before Adams left office he delivered all but seventeen. Marshall left these on his desk for the incoming Secretary, James Madison, to deliver. Outraged by Adams' appointments, Jefferson ordered Madison not to deliver the commissions. (Understanding American Politics, 2014)
Thomas Jefferson then substituted his own appointments and denied Marbury and the others, whom did not receive their commission, of their offices. Marbury sought the help of Charles Lee, former Attorney General. He asked the court to issue a writ of mandamus which would force Madison to deliver the commission. Chief Justice John Marshall was placed in a difficult position in overseeing this matter. He understood that if the court awarded Marbury with a writ of mandamus, the Jefferson administration would ignore it. Therefore, it would weaken the authority of the courts and place him in a position of possible impeachment for handing them such an order. On the other hand, if he denied Marbury’s request, Jefferson would believe that the predominantly Federalist court was surrendering to the Democratic-Republican Party.
Marshall cleverly avoided having to make such a decision (Kramer, 2000). He firmly stated that Madison should have delivered the commission to Marbury. His next words would cast that issue aside and transform the powers held by the Supreme Court. Marshall’s opinion in essence gave the court the power of judicial review and the responsibility of interpreting the Constitution. It also made the Constitution the supreme law of the land. In explaining himself, Marshall turned to Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 which provided that the Supreme Court would have jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus to the officers of the United States. Therefore, the act explicitly authorized the relief which Marbury was seeking (Understanding American Politics, 2014). However, Marshall concluded that this act was in conflict with Article III, section 2 of the Constitution which states, “The Supreme Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction of all controversies of a civil nature, where a state is a party, in cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls” (Kramer, 2000). Since the issuance of mandamus was not among the types of cases to which original jurisdiction fell to the Supreme Court, Marshall maintained that the legislative act was at odds with the Constitution. This conflict led Marshall to the essential question: whether or not a law that was in conflict with the Constitution could be held as valid. By asking this question, John Marshall established the concept of judicial review, the power of the Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of the other branches of government. He made the judiciary an equal partner with the executive and legislative branches, a role it continues to hold today. (Kramer, 2000) He solidified the Constitution as the supreme law of the land and gave the final authority on matters of constitutional interpretation to the Supreme Court.

References
Kramer, J. (2000). Marbury v. Madison : The Origins and Legacy of Judicial Review . In Nelson. Hull.
Marbury V. Madison. (n.d.). Retrieved from History.com: History.com
Understanding American Politics. (2014). In J. G. Coleman, Understanding American Politics.

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