Marbury v. Madison (1803)

Primary tabs

Marbury v. Madison (1803) was the U.S. Supreme Court case that established the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review. (Read the opinion here).

After President John Adams lost the 1800 election, but before he left office, 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 granting the Supreme Court the power to issue a writ of mandamus was unconstitutional. More importantly, however, Marshall’s opinion established that the Supreme Court has the authority, under the Supremacy Clause and Article III, § 2 of the Constitution, to review legislative or executive acts and find them unconstitutional, i.e., the power of judicial review. The Court also delineated the limits of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction, namely, stating that political questions are not reviewable by the federal courts. It also described the limitations on federal courts’ jurisdiction set forth in Article III of the Constitution. While Marbury v. Madison limited federal court’s jurisdiction, it cemented the Court’s status as the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution.

[Last updated in April of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]