Marbury v. Madison (1803)
In the election of 1800, President John Adams was defeated by Thomas Jefferson, a Republican. The new administration did not take their offices until March of 1801. The Federalists wanted to ensure a continued Federalist presence in the government so they packed the judgeships with loyal Federalist supporters, some positions which had been created for this specific purpose by Congress in 1801. Adams signed the commissions for these at the end of his term. When the new administration took office, the new Secretary of State, James Madison, discovered that some of these commissions had not yet been delivered. President Jefferson, angry with Federalists, ordered that they not be delivered. William Marbury, one of the people whose commission had not yet been received, applied to the Court for a writ of mandamus to force Madison to complete the delivery of the commissions, as per the Judiciary Act of 1789 which gave the Supreme Court this power. The Court found that although Marbury was entitled to his position, they did not have jurisdiction over the case since it came to them on original jurisdiction as per a clause in the Judiciary Act of 1789. This case did not fit any of the types of cases they could except on original jurisdiction as per Article III, Section 2, Clause 2. The Court decided that that part of the Judiciary Act giving them those powers was null and void (unconstitutional). Through this case, the Supreme Court assumed the power of judicial review, the power to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional.
Copyright © 1997 Jonathan Chin & Alan Stern