Response to Marbury v. Madison
In the case of Marbury v. Madison, modern readers can see that political leaders have used their power to propagate their influence throughout government through a variety of means. On his last day as President, Federalist John Adams named 16 new circuit court justices and 42 justices of the peace, all in the District of Columbia, so that incoming President Jefferson, who was a Democrat-Republican, would not be able to take immediate control of the judiciary branch of the government. However, while President Adams did sign and seal the commissions, he did not ensure that they were delivered before President Jefferson took office. As a result, President Jefferson’s administration refused to honor the commissions, because they were not delivered in time.
William Marbury had received an appointment as a justice of the peace from President Adams. When he was denied the post, he asked the Supreme Court to grant him a writ of mandamus forcing James Madison, President Jefferson’s Secretary of State, to grant him the commission. He filed the case with the Supreme Court directly, because of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which conferred upon the Supreme Court the original jurisdiction over issuing writs of mandamus for appointments and elections.
This case opened several questions. What were Marbury’s rights and potential remedies in the situation? Could the Supreme Court invalidate laws passed by Congress if they were found to be unconstitutional? Was Congress’ expansion of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction, through the Judiciary Act of 1789, constitutional? Can the Supreme Court really issue original writs of mandamus?
The Supreme Court found that Marbury had a right to the commission, and he indeed had the right to pursue that right through the remedy of litigation. President Adams had signed the commission and put his seal on it, and so it was a valid commission.
The Supreme Court found that it did have the right to review the laws the Congress passed and, when those laws violate the Constitution, to invalidate them. The Constitution is the guiding principle for all laws, and any laws that go against the principles in the Constitution cannot stand, because then the Constitution would not be the chief principle. However, the Supreme Court cannot have powers added to it by the Congress – the Supreme Court only has the powers granted to it in Article III of the Constitution. The function of the Supreme Court is to serve as a final arbiter of appellate cases, not to originate such items as a writ of mandamus. As a result, Marbury’s motion was denied, and he did not get to take his position.
The most significant concept to arise out of Marbury v. Madison was the idea of judicial review – that the judiciary branch could pass judgment on laws passed by the legislative branch and signed by the executive branch. This put the final element of “checks and balances” into place.
Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803). Supreme Court of the US. Web.