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Marbury v. Madison | Study Guide

United States Supreme Court

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United States Supreme Court

Year Decided



Primary Source


Law, U.S. Supreme Court Case

At a Glance

  • In March 1801, nearing the end of his presidency, John Adams (1735–1826) appointed dozens of judges under the recently created Judiciary Act of 1801. Those appointed are sometimes called the "Midnight Judges" because of the hasty, last-minute nature of the proceedings.
  • Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Adams's political opponent, became president days later. Secretary of State James Madison (1751–1836) refused to present some of Adams's appointees with their commissions, the documents proving their right to hold office.
  • Several appointees, including William Marbury (1762–1835), petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to order Madison to deliver their commissions.
  • The court, under Chief Justice John Marshall (1755–1835), found that Marbury's rights had indeed been violated and that he was entitled to a legal remedy. However, he also determined that it was not the court's prerogative to provide this remedy.
  • The short-term effects of Marbury v. Madison were minor. Marbury never received his commission, and the Judiciary Act of 1801 was repealed and replaced by Jefferson's supporters in Congress.
  • In the long run, however, Marbury v. Madison proved more influential. The case established the principle of judicial review, whereby the U.S. Supreme Court decides the constitutionality of laws and executive actions. This principle remains a core tenet of American constitutional law.


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