Pecularities of Marbury Vs. Madison Case

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Words: 1930 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Sep 19, 2019

Words: 1930|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Sep 19, 2019

The Election of 1800 caused great anxiety amongst the Federalists. In the Presidential Election, Democratic Republican Thomas Jefferson defeated Federalist John Adams with only an eight margin victory in the electoral votes (winning by one state), but Jefferson’s win marked the end of a twelve year dominance by the Federalists in the Presidency (Appleby 35). The Federalists were also losing power in Congress. The Federalists were also losing significant power in Congress. In the Senate, the Federalists held onto their narrow majority by only one seat, in contrast to the 6th Congress (1788=1801) where the Federalists held a commanding 22-13 seat lead over the Democratic Republicans (“U.S. Senate”). In the House of Representatives, the Federalists blew their majority by losing 22 seats in the election (“Office”). These loses did not come well to Federalists. After sponsoring the Constitution and dominating the Federal government in its first twelve years, many Federalists saw themselves as The Government (Appleby 36). The 1800 Election was a hard adjustment for the Federalists.

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The only hope for power the Federalists was in the judicial branch. In the time between the 1800 election and Thomas Jefferson and the new Congress members’ inauguration, the Federalist-dominated Congress passed the controversial Judiciary Act of 1801 (“Commemorating”). The Act called for a comprehensive reorganization of the federal court system that was established under the Judiciary Act of 1789. The number of justices on the Supreme Court would be reduced from six to five and the Supreme Court justices would no longer be in charge of federal circuits. Instead sixteen justices would preside over the three newly formed (“History”). Each circuit court would have three justices (other than the sixth which would only have two justices) and would represent a handful of states in the same region. For example, the first circuit court consisted of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The sixth circuit consisted of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio (United States. Congress.). The establishment of the circuit courts ultimately eliminated the time and travel that the Supreme Court justices were required to make in order to “ride circuit,” or sit as justices on state level courts. In the District of Columbia, the President was granted power to appoint as many justices as many justices of peace he deemed was necessary (“Commemorating”).

In addition to the Judiciary Act of 1801, at the very end of Adam’s term, Congress passed a different act to regulate the appointment of justices in the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia, like each section of states, would have its own circuit court with three justices presiding over it (Peters 106). The U.S. President was authorized to appoint any number of justices of peace for the District of Columbia that he found necessary. Adams appointed a jaw dropping forty-two justices of peace for the District of Columbia (Peters 107).

Before John Adams left office, he nominated all sixteen of the justices on the circuit courts and forty-two justices of peace for the District of Columbia. The partisan, Federalist-dominated Senate approved all of these justices. Amongst these “Midnight Judges” was William Marbury (“Commemorating“). Before John Adams left office, William Marbury’s appointment was confirmed, but his commission (the document that authorizing him to take his office) had not been delivered to him yet. When Thomas Jefferson, angered by these midnight appointments as much as many Jeffersonian Republicans, took office, he refused to recognize Marbury and other Midnight Justice’s commissions. He ordered his Secretary of State James Madison to withhold all of the commissions. Then Marbury and a handful of the justices who were denied their commissions asked the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus or in this case, a court order compelling Madison to hand over the commissions to the justices (Appleby 62-63).

The case would be later taken to the Supreme Court. Marbury v. Madison, as the case was to be called, is arguably the most important Supreme Court case ever. In Marbury v. Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall addressed three questions in the court’s opinion: 1. Did Marbury have the right to the writ of mandamus? 2. If Marbury had a right to the writ, do the laws of the U.S. afford him a remedy? 3. If so, could the court issue the writ?. To answer the first question, Chief Justice Marshall explained that since Marbury’s commission was signed by then President John Adams and sealed by then Secretary of State John Marshall himself, that Marbury was properly appointed and he had the right to the writ of mandamus. To answer the second question, Marshall explained that U.S. law had to afford Marbury a remedy. According to Marshall, the first duty of the courts is to protect individuals--even against the President of the United States. In other words, the Court had a duty to protect Marbury and the other justices who were denied their commissions even when Thomas Jefferson, the President of the U.S. decided not to give them their commissions. By mentioning this point in the court’s opinion, Chief Justice Marshall outlined the power of judicial review (United States. Supreme Court.).

However Chief Justice Marshall’s explanation to the third question truly established the concept of judicial review, the Supreme Court’s power to void any law passed by Congress and the President that the Supreme Court interprets as unconstitutional. By writing “emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is,” Marshall concluded that though Congress had the right to pass laws, the Supreme Court had the right to interpret whether the laws are legal or illegal (“Commemorating”). (“Commemorating”). Marshall explained that Marbury had the right to obtain and deserved a writ of mandamus, but the Supreme Court could not grant Marbury the writ because Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 which granted the Court the right to issue writs of mandamus was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court itself. Chief Justice Marshall explained that by passing Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress had given the Court too much power and that the Court had exceeded its limited power of original jurisdiction (the power to bring cases to the Supreme Court) as outlined Article III, Section II in the U.S. Constitution. By taking cases such as Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court was violating this limited power of original jurisdiction. (“Commemorating”; United States. Supreme Court.). Marshall reasoned that since the Constitution is the “superior law of the land,” “the Constitution, and not such ordinary act must govern the case to which they both apply,” or in other words, an ordinary act had to comply with the Constitution or else it was unconstitutional (“Commemorating”).

Thomas Jefferson was pleased that the court did not give William Marbury a writ of mandamus, but Jefferson was angry over Marshall’s reasoning in the court opinion. In a letter written to Justice William Johnson twenty years after the case, Jefferson called Marshall as “irregular and very censurable (Jefferson 1474).” Jefferson argued that “although signed and sealed…it [Marbury’s commission] is in fieri only, it is not a deed and can be made so only by its delivery. Whatever is in the executive office is certainly deemed to be in the hands of the President and in this case it [the commission] was in mine (Jefferson 1474).”

However despite Jefferson’s views, judicial review was in place. The Supreme Court did not void any law Congress passed due to its constitutionality until 1857 in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case. In 1833, Dr. John Emerson purchased Dred Scott, a slave, and then moved, along with Scott, to a military base in the Wisconsin Territory where due to the passage of the Missouri Compromise (ban of slavery north of 30‘36“ latitude line), slavery had been outlawed. In 1840, Emerson, Scott, and his family moved to Louisiana and then to St. Louis (where slavery was legal). When Emerson died, Scott and his family continued to work for Emerson’s wife, Irene. After six years of doing so, Scott sought to buy his freedom from Irene Emerson’s new husband, Mr. Sanford, but he refused. Scott then took his case against Sanford to the Missouri state court where Scott argued that he and his family were already free, because they had lived in the free Wisconsin Territory. The Missouri state court decided in favor of Scott and granted him his freedom, but the unsatisfied and furious Sanford repealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court (McBride).

In the Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) court opinion, the Supreme Court justices claimed that the Supreme Court itself lacked jurisdiction to take Scott’s case, because Scott was a slave and therefore was not a citizen. Under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court is allowed to only listen to cases of “citizens” of the United States. The Supreme Court then also explained that just because Scott was a resident of the Wisconsin Territory, it didn’t make him free, because Congress lacked the authority to regulate slavery in the U.S. Territory (McBride). Thus, the Supreme Court claimed that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional (“Commemorating”). Sanford was also considered to be protected under the Constitution, because according to the Supreme Court, under the Fifth Amendment, slaves were considered to be property (McBride).

According to Cass R. Sunstein, a law and political science professor at the University of Chicago, the Supreme Court had awarded the executive branch with the utmost power of interpretation in the last quarter century and the use of the judicial review has been near non-existent. In particular, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council (1984), the Supreme Court cited that the executive was in the best position to make judgments (Sunstein 2582). In the case, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to push for more flexibility in the Clean Air Act and eventually reduce the environmental regulations that burdened the private sector. The EPA redefined the word “stationary source” to include only an entire factory rather than each pollution emitting component within the factory. The Supreme Court decided that since Congress had not forbidden the EPA to redefine the definition of “stationary source,” when the Clean Air Act was passed and even despite the fact that during the case, many Congress members were furious the EPA technically changed the Clean Air Act, the EPA’s change was “permissible,” and that the Chief Executive (the president) who was in charge of such agencies as the EPA had the right, even over judges in which the Supreme Court claimed lack experience and expertise in topics such as the environment, to resolve any conflict arising that Congress did not resolve itself (Sunstein 2592).

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Other scholars have repudiated Sunstein’s claims by pointing out to recent cases such as United States v. Lopez (1995) and United States v. Morrison (2000) the Supreme Court has used its power of judicial review extensively (“Commemorating”). In 1990, Congress passed the Gun Free School Zones Act, disallowing individuals from knowingly carrying a gun on school property. In 1994, when Alfonzo Lopez, a 12th grade high school student at Edison High School in San Antonio, Texas, was discovered of bringing a gun to his school, Federal agents charged him of violating the Gun Free School Zones Act. Later in a case to the Supreme Court named United States v. Lopez, the Supreme Court ruled that the Gun Free School Zones Act was unconstitutional, because under the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution, Congress only had the power to regulate interstate commerce and the act of possessing a gun was not an interstate activity itself (“United States v. Lopez”).

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Pecularities Of Marbury vs. Madison Case. (2019, August 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 27, 2024, from
“Pecularities Of Marbury vs. Madison Case.” GradesFixer, 28 Aug. 2019,
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