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Marbury v. Madison (Con Law: Judicial Review)

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Uploaded on Feb 16, 2011

The Year is 1803, and Justice John Marshall authors the landmark opinion in Marbury v. Madison, which solidified the judicial branch's authority to interpret and decide the law. Though Justice Marshall's justification for the power of judicial review has received some criticism for being unclear, unnecessary to decide in this case, or not properly substantiated, this power has become one of the defining tools of the judicial branch. After John Adams lost a reelection bid to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, Adams appointed several Federalist judges and justices of the peace before Jefferson took office along with an incoming congress that would be controlled by Democratic-Republicans. Not all of these appointees, however, received their commissions before Thomas Jefferson was sworn in as president. As a result, President Jefferson asked his Secretary of State not to deliver any remaining commissions. William Marbury, who had been appointed as a justice of the peace in Washington D.C. but had not received his commission, decided to sue James Madison (then-Secretary of State) directly and originally in the Supreme Court to have his commission delivered. Marbury argued that the Judiciary Act of 1789, gave the Supreme Court the original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus to compel public officials to act. Therefore the Supreme Court simply needed to decide if Marbury had a vested right in his commission and was being denied that right. Justice Marshall, however, wrote an opinion that negated the need to answer that question. Instead, Marshall argued that the Act of 1789 was unconstitutional because congress could not give the Supreme Court the power to issue writs of mandamus by original jurisdiction, because the Constitution did not allow for original jurisdiction in these types of cases. Justice Marshall, a Federalist himself, seemingly rules in favor of Thomas Jefferson by refusing to compel James Madison to deliver a commission to William Marbury. However, the greater victory for Federalists was won by Justice Marshall, because his opinion established the broad power of judicial review to void acts of congress that violated the Constitution.

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