Marbury v. Madison (1803)

Definition

The Supreme Court case that established the power of judicial review.

During President John Adams’ lame duck session of his presidency, he appointed Marbury as a justice of the peace and signed the commission. Soon thereafter, Thomas Jefferson became President of the United States and refused to allow Secretary of State James Madison to deliver the commission to Marbury. Marbury sued Madison in the Supreme Court to get his commission via a writ of mandamus.

Under Justice John Marshall, the Court specifically held that the provision in the 1789 Act that granted the Supreme Court the power to issue a writ of mandamus was unconstitutional. On a broader scale, this case established that the Supreme Court had the authority, under the Supremacy Clause and Article III, § 2 of the Constitution, to review legislative or executive acts and find them unconstitutional. The Court also delineated the limits of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction, namely, political questions (which are not reviewable by the federal courts) and the limitations set forth by Article III of the Constitution. While Marbury v. Madison established that federal courts have limited jurisdiction, it also cemented the Court’s status as the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution.

 

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