Marbury v. Madison

Marbury v. Madison

Overview
Marbury v. Madison, is a landmark case in United States law and in the history of law worldwide. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States
Judicial review in the United States
Judicial review in the United States refers to the power of a court to review the constitutionality of a statute or treaty, or to review an administrative regulation for consistency with either a statute, a treaty, or the Constitution itself....

 under Article III
Article Three of the United States Constitution
Article Three of the United States Constitution establishes the judicial branch of the federal government. The judicial branch comprises the Supreme Court of the United States and lower courts as created by Congress.-Section 1: Federal courts:...

 of the Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

. It was also the first time in Western history a court invalidated a law by declaring it "unconstitutional
Constitutionality
Constitutionality is the condition of acting in accordance with an applicable constitution. Acts that are not in accordance with the rules laid down in the constitution are deemed to be ultra vires.-See also:*ultra vires*Company law*Constitutional law...

", a process called judicial review
Judicial review
Judicial review is the doctrine under which legislative and executive actions are subject to review by the judiciary. Specific courts with judicial review power must annul the acts of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher authority...

. The landmark decision helped define the "checks and balances
Separation of powers
The separation of powers, often imprecisely used interchangeably with the trias politica principle, is a model for the governance of a state. The model was first developed in ancient Greece and came into widespread use by the Roman Republic as part of the unmodified Constitution of the Roman Republic...

" of the American form of government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

.

The case resulted from a petition to the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 by William Marbury
William Marbury
William Marbury was one of the famous "Midnight Judges". Due to President John Adams's work in the night before he was to leave office, Marbury was to be appointed a Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia. He was appointed there to give the Federalists a stronghold in the judicial...

, who had been appointed by President John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

 as Justice of the Peace
Justice of the Peace
A justice of the peace is a puisne judicial officer elected or appointed by means of a commission to keep the peace. Depending on the jurisdiction, they might dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions...

 in the District of Columbia
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 but whose commission
Letters patent
Letters patent are a type of legal instrument in the form of a published written order issued by a monarch or president, generally granting an office, right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or corporation...

 was not subsequently delivered.
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Encyclopedia
Marbury v. Madison, is a landmark case in United States law and in the history of law worldwide. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States
Judicial review in the United States
Judicial review in the United States refers to the power of a court to review the constitutionality of a statute or treaty, or to review an administrative regulation for consistency with either a statute, a treaty, or the Constitution itself....

 under Article III
Article Three of the United States Constitution
Article Three of the United States Constitution establishes the judicial branch of the federal government. The judicial branch comprises the Supreme Court of the United States and lower courts as created by Congress.-Section 1: Federal courts:...

 of the Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

. It was also the first time in Western history a court invalidated a law by declaring it "unconstitutional
Constitutionality
Constitutionality is the condition of acting in accordance with an applicable constitution. Acts that are not in accordance with the rules laid down in the constitution are deemed to be ultra vires.-See also:*ultra vires*Company law*Constitutional law...

", a process called judicial review
Judicial review
Judicial review is the doctrine under which legislative and executive actions are subject to review by the judiciary. Specific courts with judicial review power must annul the acts of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher authority...

. The landmark decision helped define the "checks and balances
Separation of powers
The separation of powers, often imprecisely used interchangeably with the trias politica principle, is a model for the governance of a state. The model was first developed in ancient Greece and came into widespread use by the Roman Republic as part of the unmodified Constitution of the Roman Republic...

" of the American form of government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

.

The case resulted from a petition to the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 by William Marbury
William Marbury
William Marbury was one of the famous "Midnight Judges". Due to President John Adams's work in the night before he was to leave office, Marbury was to be appointed a Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia. He was appointed there to give the Federalists a stronghold in the judicial...

, who had been appointed by President John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

 as Justice of the Peace
Justice of the Peace
A justice of the peace is a puisne judicial officer elected or appointed by means of a commission to keep the peace. Depending on the jurisdiction, they might dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions...

 in the District of Columbia
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 but whose commission
Letters patent
Letters patent are a type of legal instrument in the form of a published written order issued by a monarch or president, generally granting an office, right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or corporation...

 was not subsequently delivered. Marbury petitioned the Supreme Court to force Secretary of State James Madison
James Madison
James Madison, Jr. was an American statesman and political theorist. He was the fourth President of the United States and is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being the primary author of the United States Constitution and at first an opponent of, and then a key author of the United...

 to deliver the documents, but the Court, with John Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

 as Chief Justice, denied Marbury's petition without reaching its merits. The Court instead held that the provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789
Judiciary Act of 1789
The United States Judiciary Act of 1789 was a landmark statute adopted on September 24, 1789 in the first session of the First United States Congress establishing the U.S. federal judiciary...

 that enabled Marbury to bring his claim to the Supreme Court was unconstitutional, because it purported to extend the Court's original jurisdiction
Original jurisdiction
The original jurisdiction of a court is the power to hear a case for the first time, as opposed to appellate jurisdiction, when a court has the power to review a lower court's decision.-France:...

 beyond that which Article III established.

Background of the case


In the presidential election of 1800
United States presidential election, 1800
In the United States Presidential election of 1800, sometimes referred to as the "Revolution of 1800," Vice-President Thomas Jefferson defeated President John Adams. The election was a realigning election that ushered in a generation of Democratic-Republican Party rule and the eventual demise of...

, Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 defeated John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

, becoming the third President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

. Although the election was decided on February 17, 1801, Jefferson did not take office until March 4, 1801. Until that time, outgoing president Adams and the Federalist-controlled 6th Congress
6th United States Congress
The Sixth United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, consisting of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It met at Congress Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C. from March 4, 1799...

 were still in power. During this lame-duck
Lame duck (politics)
A lame duck is an elected official who is approaching the end of his or her tenure, and especially an official whose successor has already been elected.-Description:The status can be due to*having lost a re-election bid...

 session, Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1801. This Act modified the Judiciary Act of 1789
Judiciary Act of 1789
The United States Judiciary Act of 1789 was a landmark statute adopted on September 24, 1789 in the first session of the First United States Congress establishing the U.S. federal judiciary...

 in establishing ten new district courts
United States district court
The United States district courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system. Both civil and criminal cases are filed in the district court, which is a court of law, equity, and admiralty. There is a United States bankruptcy court associated with each United States...

, expanding the number of circuit courts
United States circuit court
The United States circuit courts were the original intermediate level courts of the United States federal court system. They were established by the Judiciary Act of 1789. They had trial court jurisdiction over civil suits of diversity jurisdiction and major federal crimes. They also had appellate...

 from three to six, and adding additional judges to each circuit, giving the President the authority to appoint Federal judges and justices of the peace. The act also reduced the number of Supreme Court justices from six to five, effective upon the next vacancy in the Court.

On March 3, just before his term was to end, Adams, in an attempt to stymie the incoming Democratic-Republican Congress and administration, appointed 16 Federalist circuit judges and 42 Federalist justices of the peace to offices created by the Judiciary Act of 1801. These appointees, the infamous "Midnight Judges
Midnight Judges
The Midnight Judges Act represented an effort to solve an issue in the U.S. Supreme Court during the early 19th century. There was concern, beginning in 1789, about the system that required the justices of the Supreme Court to “ride circuit” and reiterate decisions made in the appellate level...

", were all located in the Washington and Alexandria
Alexandria, Virginia
Alexandria is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of 2009, the city had a total population of 139,966. Located along the Western bank of the Potomac River, Alexandria is approximately six miles south of downtown Washington, D.C.Like the rest of northern Virginia, as well as...

 area. One of them was William Marbury
William Marbury
William Marbury was one of the famous "Midnight Judges". Due to President John Adams's work in the night before he was to leave office, Marbury was to be appointed a Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia. He was appointed there to give the Federalists a stronghold in the judicial...

, a native of Maryland and a prosperous financier. An ardent Federalist, Marbury was active in Maryland politics and a vigorous supporter of the Adams presidency. He had been appointed to the position of justice of the peace
Justice of the Peace
A justice of the peace is a puisne judicial officer elected or appointed by means of a commission to keep the peace. Depending on the jurisdiction, they might dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions...

 in the District of Columbia
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

. The term for a justice of the peace was five years, and they were "authorized to hold courts and cognizance of personal demands of the value of 20 dollars."

On the following day, the appointments were approved en masse by the Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

; however, to go into effect, the commissions had to be delivered to those appointed. This task fell to John Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

, who, even though recently appointed Chief Justice of the United States
Chief Justice of the United States
The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States...

, continued as the acting Secretary of State
United States Secretary of State
The United States Secretary of State is the head of the United States Department of State, concerned with foreign affairs. The Secretary is a member of the Cabinet and the highest-ranking cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence...

 at President Adams's personal request.

While a majority of the commissions were delivered, it proved impossible for all of them to be delivered before Adams's term as president expired. As these appointments were routine in nature, Marshall assumed the new Secretary of State James Madison
James Madison
James Madison, Jr. was an American statesman and political theorist. He was the fourth President of the United States and is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being the primary author of the United States Constitution and at first an opponent of, and then a key author of the United...

 would see they were delivered, since "they had been properly submitted and approved, and were, therefore, legally valid appointments." On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 was sworn in as President. As soon as he was able, President Jefferson ordered Levi Lincoln
Levi Lincoln, Sr.
Levi Lincoln, Sr. was an American revolutionary and statesman who served as a Minuteman at the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, a state legislator in Massachusetts, a participant in Massachusetts' state constitutional convention, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, a U.S...

, who was the new administration's Attorney General and acting Secretary of State until the arrival of James Madison
James Madison
James Madison, Jr. was an American statesman and political theorist. He was the fourth President of the United States and is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being the primary author of the United States Constitution and at first an opponent of, and then a key author of the United...

, not to deliver the remaining appointments. Without the commissions, the appointees were unable to assume the offices and duties to which they had been appointed. In Jefferson's opinion, the undelivered commissions, not having been delivered on time, were void.

The newly sworn-in Democratic-Republican 7th Congress
7th United States Congress
- House of Representatives :-Senate:* President: Aaron Burr * President pro tempore:** Abraham Baldwin , first elected December 7, 1801** Stephen R. Bradley , first elected December 14, 1802-House of Representatives:...

 immediately set about voiding the Judiciary Act of 1801 with their own Judiciary Act of 1802
Judiciary Act of 1802
The United States Judiciary Act of 1802 was a Federal statute, enacted on April 29, 1802, to reorganize the federal court system. It restored some elements of the Judiciary Act of 1801, which had been adopted by the Federalist majority in the previous Congress, but was repealed by the...

 which reversed the act of 1801 so that the Judicial branch once again operated under the dictates of the original Judiciary Act of 1789
Judiciary Act of 1789
The United States Judiciary Act of 1789 was a landmark statute adopted on September 24, 1789 in the first session of the First United States Congress establishing the U.S. federal judiciary...

. In addition, it replaced the Court's two annual sessions with one session to begin on the first Monday in February, and "canceled the Supreme Court term scheduled for June of that year [1802] ... seeking to delay a ruling on the constitutionality of the repeal act until months after the new judicial system was in operation."

Status of the judicial power before Marbury




Although the power of judicial review is sometimes said to have originated with Marbury, the concept of judicial review has ancient roots. The idea that courts could nullify statutes originated in England with Chief Justice Edward Coke
Edward Coke
Sir Edward Coke SL PC was an English barrister, judge and politician considered to be the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. Born into a middle class family, Coke was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge before leaving to study at the Inner Temple, where he was called to the...

's 1610 opinion in Dr. Bonham’s Case, 8 Co. Rep. 107a. That decision arose under a statute of Parliament enabling the London College of Physicians to levy fines against anyone who violated their rules. The College accused a doctor of practicing without a license and fined him accordingly. Coke found that their statutory powers violated "common right or reason" because "no person should be a judge in his own case."

The U.S. Supreme Court stated Bonham's Case did not set a precedent in the United States to make common law supreme over statutory law:
The idea that courts could declare statutes void was defeated in England with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when King James II
James II of England
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...

 was removed and the elected Parliament declared itself supreme
Parliamentary sovereignty
Parliamentary sovereignty is a concept in the constitutional law of some parliamentary democracies. In the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, a legislative body has absolute sovereignty, meaning it is supreme to all other government institutions—including any executive or judicial bodies...

. However, it continued to be known in the American colonies and in the bars of young states, where Coke's books were very influential. The doctrine was specifically enshrined in some state constitutions, and by 1803 it had been employed in both State and Federal courts in actions dealing with state statutes, but only insofar as the statutes conflicted with the language of state constitutions.

A number of legal scholars argue that the power of judicial review in the United States predated Marbury, and that Marbury was merely the first Supreme Court case to exercise a power that already existed and was acknowledged. These scholars point to statements about judicial review made in the Constitutional Convention
Philadelphia Convention
The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to address problems in governing the United States of America, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation following independence from...

 and the state ratifying conventions, statements about judicial review in publications debating ratification, and court cases before Marbury that involved judicial review.

At the Constitutional Convention
Philadelphia Convention
The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to address problems in governing the United States of America, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation following independence from...

 in 1787, there were a number of references to judicial review. Fifteen delegates made statements about the power of the federal courts to review the constitutionality of laws, with all but two of them supporting the idea.

Likewise, at the state ratifying conventions, over two dozen delegates in at least seven states indicated that under the Constitution, the federal courts would have the power to declare statutes unconstitutional. Professors Saikrishna Prakash and John Yoo
John Yoo
John Choon Yoo is an American attorney, law professor, and author. As a former official in the United States Department of Justice during the George W...

 point out, with respect to the ratification of the Constitution, that "no scholar to date has identified even one participant in the ratification fight who argued that the Constitution did not authorize judicial review of Federal statutes. This silence in the face of the numerous comments on the other side is revealing."

The concept of judicial review was discussed in the Federalist Papers
Federalist Papers
The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 articles or essays promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution. Seventy-seven of the essays were published serially in The Independent Journal and The New York Packet between October 1787 and August 1788...

. Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

 asserted in Federalist No. 78
Federalist No. 78
Federalist No. 78 is an essay by Alexander Hamilton, the seventy-eighth of the Federalist Papers. Like all of the Federalist Papers, it was published under the pseudonym Publius....

 that under the Constitution, the federal courts would have not just the power, but the duty, to examine the constitutionality of statutes:
The opponents to ratification, known as Anti-federalists
Anti-Federalism
Anti-Federalism refers to a movement that opposed the creation of a stronger U.S. federal government and which later opposed the ratification of the Constitution of 1787. The previous constitution, called the Articles of Confederation, gave state governments more authority...

, agreed that the federal courts would have the power to declare statutes unconstitutional, but were concerned that this would give the federal courts too much power. Robert Yates
Robert Yates (politician)
Robert Yates was a politician and judge well known for his Anti-Federalist stances. He is also well known as the presumed author of political essays published in 1787 and 1788 under the pseudonyms "Brutus" and "Sydney"...

 argued: "The supreme court then have a right, independent of the legislature, to give a construction to the constitution and every part of it, and there is no power provided in this system to correct their construction or do it away. If, therefore, the legislature pass any laws, inconsistent with the sense the judges put upon the constitution, they will declare it void."

A number of courts engaged in judicial review before Marbury was decided. At the time of the Constitutional Convention
Philadelphia Convention
The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to address problems in governing the United States of America, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation following independence from...

, there had been cases in the state courts of at least seven states involving judicial review of state statutes. Between the ratification of the Constitution in 1788 and the Supreme Court's decision in Marbury in 1803, judicial review was used a number of times in both state and federal courts. One scholar counted thirty-one cases during this period in which courts found statutes unconstitutional, concluding: "The sheer number of these decisions not only belies the notion that the institution of judicial review was created by Chief Justice Marshall in Marbury, it also reflects widespread acceptance and application of the doctrine."

Scholars have pointed out the Supreme Court itself already had engaged in judicial review before Marbury, although it had not struck down the statute in question because it concluded that the statute was constitutional. In Hylton v. United States
Hylton v. United States
Hylton v. United States, , was an early United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that a tax on carriages did not violate the Article I, Section 9 requirement for the apportioning of direct taxes. It found the carriage tax was an "excise" instead of a "direct tax" requiring...

, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 171 (1796), the Court upheld a federal tax on carriages against a claim that the tax violated the "direct tax" provision of the Constitution. Therefore, the concept of judicial review was familiar before Marbury.

However, it is important to note that nothing in the text of the Constitution explicitly authorized the power of judicial review, despite persistent fears voiced by Anti-federalists over the power of the new Federal court system.

Relevant law


The issue



There are three ways a case can be heard in the Supreme Court: (1) filing directly in the Supreme Court; (2) filing in a lower federal court, such as a district court, and appealing all the way up to the Supreme Court; (3) filing in a state court, appealing all the way up through the state's highest courts, and then appealing to the Supreme Court on an issue of federal law. The first is an exercise of the Court's original jurisdiction
Original jurisdiction
The original jurisdiction of a court is the power to hear a case for the first time, as opposed to appellate jurisdiction, when a court has the power to review a lower court's decision.-France:...

; the second and third are exercises of the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction
Appellate jurisdiction
Appellate jurisdiction is the power of the Supreme Court to review decisions and change outcomes of decisions of lower courts. Most appellate jurisdiction is legislatively created, and may consist of appeals by leave of the appellate court or by right...

.

Because Marbury filed his petition for the writ of mandamus directly in the Supreme Court, the Court needed to be able to exercise original jurisdiction over the case in order to have the power to hear it.

Marbury's argument is that in the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress granted the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over petitions for writs of mandamus. This raises several issues that the Supreme Court had to address:
  • Does Article III of the Constitution create a "floor" for original jurisdiction, which Congress can add to, or does it create an exhaustive list that Congress can't modify at all?
  • If Article III's original jurisdiction is an exhaustive list, but Congress tries to modify it anyway, who wins that conflict, Congress or the Constitution?
  • And, more importantly, who is supposed to decide who wins?


In its answer to this last question, the Supreme Court formalizes the notion of judicial review
Judicial review
Judicial review is the doctrine under which legislative and executive actions are subject to review by the judiciary. Specific courts with judicial review power must annul the acts of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher authority...

. In short, the constitutional issue on which Marbury v. Madison was decided was whether Congress could expand the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

The decision


On February 24, 1803, the Court rendered a unanimous (4–0) decision, that Marbury had the right to his commission but the court did not have the power to force Madison to deliver the commission. Chief Justice Marshall wrote the opinion of the court. Marshall presented the case as raising three distinct questions:
  • Did Marbury have a right to the commission?
  • Do the laws of the country give Marbury a legal remedy?
  • Is asking the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus the correct legal remedy?


Marshall quickly answered the first two questions affirmatively. He found that the failure to deliver the commission was "violative of a vested legal right."

In deciding whether Marbury had a remedy, Marshall stated: "The Government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men. It will certainly cease to deserve this high appellation if the laws furnish no remedy for the violation of a vested legal right." One of the key legal principles on which Marbury relies is the notion that for every violation of a vested legal right, there must be a legal remedy. Marshall next described two distinct types of Executive actions: political actions, where the official can exercise discretion, and purely ministerial functions, where the official is legally required to do something. Marshall found that delivering the appointment to Marbury was a purely ministerial function required by law, and therefore the law provided him a remedy.

A federal court has a "special obligation to 'satisfy itself not only of its own jurisdiction, but also that of the lower courts in a cause under review.'" If a court does not have the power to hear a case, it will not issue dicta. Consequently, with exceptions not applicable here, a federal court must decide whether it has jurisdiction before discussing the merits of the case. Chief Justice Marshall, however, did not address jurisdictional issues until addressing the first two questions presented above. Because of the canon of constitutional avoidance (i.e., where a statute can fairly be interpreted so as to avoid a constitutional issue, it should be so interpreted), courts generally deal with the constitutional issues only if necessary. In this case, the jurisdictional issue was a constitutional one.

In analyzing the third question, Marshall divided the question further, asking if a writ of mandamus was the correct means by which to restore Marbury to his right, and if so, whether the writ Marbury sought could issue from the Supreme Court. Concluding quickly that since a writ of mandamus, by definition, was the correct judicial means to order an official of the United States (in this case, the Secretary of State) to do something required of him (in this case, deliver a commission), Marshall devotes the remainder of his inquiry at the second part of the question: "Whether it [the writ] can issue from this court."

Marshall first examined the Judiciary Act of 1789
Judiciary Act of 1789
The United States Judiciary Act of 1789 was a landmark statute adopted on September 24, 1789 in the first session of the First United States Congress establishing the U.S. federal judiciary...

 and determined that the Act purported to give the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over writs of mandamus. Marshall then looked to Article III
Article Three of the United States Constitution
Article Three of the United States Constitution establishes the judicial branch of the federal government. The judicial branch comprises the Supreme Court of the United States and lower courts as created by Congress.-Section 1: Federal courts:...

 of the Constitution, which defines the Supreme Court's original and appellate jurisdictions (see Relevant Law above). Marbury had argued that the Constitution was only intended to set a floor for original jurisdiction that Congress could add to. Marshall disagreed and held that Congress does not have the power to modify the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction. Consequently, Marshall found that the Constitution and the Judiciary Act conflict.

This conflict raised the important question of what happens when an Act of Congress conflicts with the Constitution. Marshall answered that Acts of Congress that conflict with the Constitution are not law and the Courts are bound instead to follow the Constitution, affirming the principle of judicial review
Judicial review
Judicial review is the doctrine under which legislative and executive actions are subject to review by the judiciary. Specific courts with judicial review power must annul the acts of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher authority...

. In support of this position Marshall looked to the nature of the written Constitution—there would be no point of having a written Constitution if the courts could just ignore it. "To what purpose are powers limited, and to what purpose is that limitation committed to writing, if these limits may, at any time, be passed by those intended to be restrained?" Marshall also argued that the very nature of the judicial function requires courts to make this determination. Since it is a court's duty to decide cases, courts have to be able to decide what law applies to each case. Therefore, if two laws conflict with each other, a court must decide which law applies. Finally, Marshall pointed to the judge's oath requiring them to uphold the Constitution, and to the Supremacy Clause
Supremacy Clause
Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, known as the Supremacy Clause, establishes the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Treaties, and Federal Statutes as "the supreme law of the land." The text decrees these to be the highest form of law in the U.S...

 of the Constitution, which lists the "Constitution" before the "laws of the United States." Part of the core of this reasoning is found in the following statements from the decision:
"In denying his request, the Court held that it lacked jurisdiction because Section 13 of the Judiciary Act passed by Congress in 1789, which authorized the Court to issue such a writ, was unconstitutional and thus invalid." Marbury never became a Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia.

Criticism


At the time, Jefferson disagreed with Marshall's reasoning in this case, saying that if this view of judicial power became accepted, it would be "placing us under the despotism of an oligarchy
Oligarchy
Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with an elite class distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, commercial, and/or military legitimacy...

." Jefferson expanded on this in a letter he wrote some 20 years later to Justice William Johnson
William Johnson (judge)
William Johnson was a state legislator and judge in South Carolina, and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1804 to his death in 1834.-Youth and early career:...

, whom he had appointed to the court in 1804.

Some legal scholars have questioned the legal reasoning of Marshall's opinion. They argue that Marshall selectively quoted the Judiciary Act of 1789, interpreting it to grant the Supreme Court the power to hear writs of mandamus on original jurisdiction. These scholars argue that there is little connection between the notion of original jurisdiction and the Supreme Court, and note that the Act seems to affirm the Court's power to exercise only appellate jurisdiction. Furthermore, it has been argued that the Supreme Court should have been able to issue the writ on original jurisdiction based on the fact that Article III of the Constitution granted it the right to review on original jurisdiction "all cases affecting … public ministers and consuls," and that James Madison, Secretary of State at the time and defendant of the suit, should have fallen into that category of a "public minister [or] consul."

Questions have also frequently been raised about the logic of Marshall's argument for judicial review, for example by Alexander Bickel
Alexander Bickel
Alexander Mordecai Bickel was a law professor and expert on the United States Constitution. One of the most influential constitutional commentators of the twentieth century, his writings emphasize judicial restraint....

 in his book The Least Dangerous Branch. Bickel argues that Marshall's argument implies an unrealistically mechanical view of jurisprudence, one which suggests that the Court has an absolute duty to strike down every law it finds violative of the Constitution. Under Marshall's conception of the judicial process in Marbury, judges themselves have no independent agency and can never take into account the consequences of their actions when deciding cases.

Marbury can also be criticized on grounds that it was improper for the Court to consider any issues beyond jurisdiction. After concluding that the Court lacked jurisdiction in the case, the further review regarding the substantive issues presented was arguably improper. Also, it has been argued that Justice Marshall should have recused himself on the grounds that he was still acting Secretary of State at the time the commissions were to be delivered and it was his brother, James Marshall, who was charged with delivering a number of the commissions.

Because the Constitution lacks a clear statement authorizing the Federal courts to nullify the acts of coequal branches, critics contend that the argument for judicial review must rely on a significant gloss on the Constitution's terms. Despite such criticisms of Marbury v. Madison, judicial review has been accepted in the American legal community.

See also

  • Judicial review in the United States
    Judicial review in the United States
    Judicial review in the United States refers to the power of a court to review the constitutionality of a statute or treaty, or to review an administrative regulation for consistency with either a statute, a treaty, or the Constitution itself....

  • List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 5
  • Hylton v. United States
    Hylton v. United States
    Hylton v. United States, , was an early United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that a tax on carriages did not violate the Article I, Section 9 requirement for the apportioning of direct taxes. It found the carriage tax was an "excise" instead of a "direct tax" requiring...

  • Calder v. Bull
    Calder v. Bull
    Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. 386 , is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court examined its authority to review state legislature decisions.-Background:...


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.)

External links