Marbury v. Madison

8 August 2016

In the election of 1800, the Federalists became the minority for the first time when Thomas Jefferson, a Democratic Republican, beat John Adams, a Federalist in the presidential race. In the 1800’s, elections were not like today. Back then, the presidential inauguration did not happen until March. So even though Congress was still in session, the outgoing president had not left office yet. John Adams, the outgoing president, and his Federalist colleagues realized that both the Executive branch, and the Legislative branch were about to overrun by their opponents and they wanted to stay in power.

To do this, President Adams came up with a plan to expand the number of Federalist judgeships in the Federal Judiciary. Shortly before the expiration of Adam’s presidency, he appointed a whole bunch of judges in hopes that they would carry on his legacy. Adams took advantage of an act of Congress known as the organic act or the “Midnight Judges Act,” signing judicial commissions for the JP’s in DC before Jefferson took office. The Organic Act was an attempt by the Federalists to take control of the Federal Judiciary before Thomas Jefferson took office.

John Marshal, while he was still acting as Secretary of State, was supposed to deliver the newly appointed JP’s commissions; and he wanted to because after all Marbury was a “Federalist,” but Marshal ran out of time. When Jefferson finally takes office, he appoints the former Secretary of State John Marshal as his Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Thomas Jefferson, who was now the newly elected Democratic Republican President, comes into office and sees all these undelivered JP commissions, and decides that his administration does not want to have all these Federalist judges in the Federal Judiciary.

Jefferson orders his Secretary of State James Madison not to deliver the JP’s commissions. One of these judges was William Marbury, and Marbury really wanted his judgeship. Marbury had a friend, who happened to be the former Attorney General of the United States, who told Marbury that there was a statute passed by congress several years prior that allowed the Supreme Court to issue a “writ of mandamus. ” A writ of mandamus is a mandate that says that if need be the Supreme Court can mandate that something happen. So Marbury also devised a plan; he would ask for a writ of mandamus.

So Marbury applied directly to the Supreme Court of the United States for a writ of mandamus to compel Jefferson’s Secretary of State, James Madison, to deliver his JP commission. This is the case of Marbury v. Madison. Prior to Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court was looked at as weak by many of the original states. At that time, the Supreme Court was a joke to much of the country, and the Judicial Branch of the government was not fully recognized. Congress had even previously suspended the Supreme Court for a full year.

This was evidence enough to Marshal of what could happen if you upset the Jefferson administration by ruling against him in this case. Marshal was faced with a tough decision; order the Jefferson administration to hand over Marbury’s commission or not. Marshal was afraid that if he ordered in favor of Marbury, it would upset the newly elected anti-federalist government, and that Jefferson would likely ignore the order setting a legal precedence making the Supreme Court inferior to the Federal Government. In deciding this case, Chief Justice Marshal asks three questions.

The first question Marshal asked was whether Marbury suffered any legal harm. Marshal decided that what the president was doing, by not handing over his commission was in fact illegal. The second question Marshal asked was if there was a legal remedy at law in which Marbury could sue for legal injuries. Marshal decided that Marbury could sue because he did not receive his commission. Up to this point Marshal had decided in favor of Marbury. Then Marshal asks his third and most important question; can the Supreme Court do anything about it?

In deciding, Marshal places the Judiciary Act of 1789 next to the United States Constitution and sees that the part of the Judiciary Act that gives the Supreme Court the power to issue a writ of mandamus was in fact an expansion of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction. Marshal finds this part of the Judiciary Act to be unconstitutional because it basically amends the constitution. Allowing this happen could become a slippery slope. What if we could amend any part of the constitution with any old piece of legislation?

So Marshal rules in favor of Madison, and in turn sets a legal precedence of judicial review. This is the Supreme Court’s greatest power. It means that only the Supreme Court can compare laws to the constitution and when they notice a discrepancy, they can declare the law null in void. The reason why Marbury v. Madison is such an important case is because it defines for the first time the power of the United States Supreme Court and elevates it to the third and equal branch of the Federal Government.

How to cite Marbury v. Madison essay

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Marbury v. Madison. (2016, Aug 11). Retrieved January 7, 2021, from
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