Marbury v. Madison Case – Power of Judiciary

Marbury v. Madison Case – Power of Judiciary

John Adams (1735–1826), William Marbury (1762–1835), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), James Madison (1751–1836), John Marshall (1755–1835)

Marbury v. Madison Case – Power of Judiciary
Marbury v. Madison Case – Power of Judiciary – John Vanderlyn painted this 1816 portrait of James Madison, President Jefferson’s secretary of State and the fourth president of the United States.

On February 24, 1803, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Marshall, rules in William Marbury v. James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States, confirming the legal principle of judicial review—the Supreme Court’s ability to limit Congressional power by declaring legislation unconstitutional—in the new nation.

The court found that the new president, Thomas Jefferson, was improper to block William Marbury from taking office as judge of the peace for Washington County in the District of Columbia through his secretary of state, James Madison. The court did, however, decide that it lacked jurisdiction in the case and that it could not compel Jefferson and Madison to seat Marbury. The Supreme Court was given jurisdiction by the Judiciary Act of 1789, but the Marshall court concluded that it was an unconstitutional expansion of judicial power into the executive branch.

John Marshall argued in the ruling that actions of Congress that are in contradiction with the Constitution are not law and hence are not binding on the courts, and that the judiciary’s primary role is to protect the Constitution. If two laws clash, Marshall reasoned, the court must decide which one applies in any particular situation. As a result, Marbury was never hired.

Jefferson and Madison objected to Marbury’s appointment, as well as the appointments of all the so-called “midnight judges” chosen by the previous president, John Adams, after Jefferson had been elected but only a few hours before taking office. Many of these Federalist judges–though not Marbury–were taking the bench in new courts created by the Judiciary Act, which the lame-duck Federalist Congress passed on February 13, 1801, less than a month before Jefferson’s inauguration on March 4–further aggravating the new Democratic-Republican administration.

President Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican supporters launched a series of attacks against the Federalist-controlled courts as part of the “Revolution of 1800.” By repealing the Judiciary Act in 1802, the new Democratic-Republican-controlled Congress easily eliminated most of the midnight judges. They impeached Supreme Court justice Samuel Chase, but he was acquitted due to internal party feuds. The acquittal of Chase, combined with Marshall’s well-reasoned decision, put an end to the Jeffersonian assault.


The U.S. Constitution (1787);

The Judiciary Act of 1789;

The Supremacy of Federal Courts (1821).


Marbury v. Madison Case – Power of Judiciary

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)