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Published on May 8, 2012
Donald Scarinci explains how Marbury v. Madison, decided in 1803, gives the United States Supreme Court the power to decide whether "Obama care" will be the law of the land or not.
Supreme Court Review of the Affordable Care Act began in 1803
American's who support and oppose "Obamacare" now find themselves without elected Congressmen to lobby and without the media to influence public opinion. The fate of the Affordable Care Act is now in the hands of nine people elected by no one and appointed for life to the job. This leaves some Americans wondering why the United States Supreme Court has this extraordinary power to affirm or set aside this hard fought victory of Barak Obama's first term presidency.
In 1803, the United States Supreme Court considered the facts of Marbury v. Madison and decided that the Supreme Court has the power to invalidate acts of Congress if they determine those acts to be in conflict with the Constitution of the United States. This legal doctrine is known as "judicial review."
The case was brought by William Marbury, who had been appointed by President John Adams as Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia during the hotly contested Presidential election of 1800. Although Marbury's commission was approved, it was not delivered before Adams' term in office ended.
When Thomas Jefferson took office, he ordered James Madison, his Secretary of State, not to deliver the commissions signed by his predecessor. Marbury subsequently petitioned the Supreme Court to force Madison's hand through a writ of mandamus, a legal order compelling him to act.
The justices held that the Judiciary Act of 1789, on which Marbury relied to bring his petition to the High Court, was unconstitutional. The Court invalidated the law because it extended the Court's original jurisdiction (the power to bring cases directly to the Supreme Court) beyond the scope of the Constitution. Under Article III, original jurisdiction is only given to cases "affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls" and to cases "in which the state shall be party."
In plain terms, the Supreme Court determined that Congress had overstepped its authority in passing the law, and it was the Court's duty, as the protector of the Constitution, to strike it down.
This decision forms the basis for petitioners to challenge the constitutionality of our laws before the Supreme Court, including the health care law being debated today. In addition to establishing judicial review, the Marbury decision elevated the power of the Supreme Court and started its gradual rise to an equal branch of the federal government.