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Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 1 Cranch 137, 2 L. Ed. (1803)Tamiko HenryProfessor ShartzerLEG420July 12, 2015In the most important judicial decision in the U.S. history, the Supreme Court empowereditself to be the final authority on the legality of government activity. In 1803, the Supreme Court,led by Chief Justice John Marshall, decides that landmark case of William Marbury versus James
Madison, Secretary of State of the United States and confirms the legal principle of judicial review-the ability of the Supreme Court to limit Congressional power by declaring legislation unconstitutional-in the new nation. In 1801, just before his presidency ended, John Adams signeda new bill into law creating several new federal courts and judgeships. The appointments that Adams made were known as the “midnight judges” (Denson). One of the judges that were appointed was William Marbury, who was appointed as justice of the peace for Washington D.C. When Thomas Jefferson became president in March he had instructed Secretary of State James Madison to cancel the commission of Marbury and the other judges appointed by Adams. Because of this, Marbury sued Madison for his commission, appealing directly to the Supreme Court in accordance with the Judiciary Act of 1789 (Schweikart). The Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the majority opinion. Marshall ruled that the court could not order Madison to give Marbury the commission because the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional and was therefore void. This decision marked the first time that the Supreme Court declared that a law passed by Congress and signed by the president was illegal (Denson). At the last term, on the affidavits then read and filed with the clerk, a rule was granted in this case, requiring the secretary of state to show cause why a mandamus [5 U.S. 137, 154] should not issue, directing him to deliver to William Marbury his commission as a justice of the peace for the county of Washington, in the district of Columbia.No cause has been shown, and the present motion is for a mandamus. The peculiar delicacy of this case, the novelty of some of its circumstances, and the real difficulty attending the points which occur in it, require a complete exposition of the principles on which the opinion to be given by the court is founded.
These principles have been, on the side of the applicant, very ably argued at the bar. In rendering the opinion of the court, there will be some departure in form, though not in substance, from the points stated in that argument.In the order in which the court has reviewed this subject, the following questions have been considered and decided.1. Has the applicant a right to the commission he demands?2. If he has a right, and that right has been violated, do the laws of his country afford him a remedy?