John Marshall: A Biography (1755- 1835)

 Marbury vs. Madison (1803)

A transcript of Marbury vs. Mason.


William Marbury


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       Marbury vs. Madison  was one of the first cases where John Marshall received the opportunity to exercise his newfound power as Chief Justice. The ruling and opinion, written by him, on this case would be so monumental, that it still influences justice in today's world. 
      As President John Adams got ready to leave office in 1801, he appointed William Marbury to become justice of the peace in the District of Columbia. However, Thomas Jefferson, who had defeated Adams in the  election, became president before Marbury took office. The Republican Jefferson was a rival of the Federalist Adams. As a result, James Madison, the new secretary of state, the withheld Marbury's appointment.
   In response to that, Marbury filed a case against Madison in the Supreme Court. Marbury asked the Court to use the authority granted to it by Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, to issue a writ of mandamus, ordering Madison to grant Marbury's appointment. Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 grants the Supreme Court the rights to issue writs of mandamus to public officials, which command them to do, or not to do,  certain things.
      Marshall and the Supreme Court ruled that it could not grant a writ because Section 13 of the Judiciary Act was unconstitutional. Section 13 gave the court powers not granted in the constitution and therefore violated it. Marshall, through his arguments, granted the court judicial review, or the right of the Supreme Court to invalidate laws that breached the constitution. Marshall reasoned that there need to be a form of enforcement for the limits on executive and legislative power. He further stated that another branch of government need to render interpretations of the Constitution,  determine whether the actions of the legislative and judicial branches violate the Constitution, and to declare those actions unconstitutional. The judicial branch had the responsibility of interpreting and enforcing the law, therefore, the had the authority to do this.
        Marbury vs. Madison was the first time that the principal of judicial review was established. Judicial reivew is still practiced by the Supreme Court in the United States today and all over the world.