Marbury v. Madison
|Marbury v. Madison|
|Argued February 11, 1803
Decided February 24, 1803
|Full case name||William Marbury v. James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States|
|Citations||5 U.S. 137 (more)|
|Prior history||Original action filed in U.S. Supreme Court; order to show cause why writ of mandamus should not issue, December 1801|
|Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 is unconstitutional to the extent it purports to enlarge the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court beyond that permitted by the Constitution. Congress cannot pass laws that are contrary to the Constitution, and it is the role of the judiciary to interpret what the Constitution permits.|
|Majority||Marshall, joined by Paterson, Chase, Washington[a]|
|U.S. Const. arts. I, III; Judiciary Act of 1789 § 13|
Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803), is a U.S. Supreme Court case that established the principle of judicial review in the United States, so that American courts have the power to strike down laws, statutes, and executive actions that contravene the U.S. Constitution. The Court's landmark decision, issued in 1803, helped define the boundary between the constitutionally separate executive and judicial branches of the American form of government.
The case resulted from a petition to the Supreme Court by William Marbury, who had been appointed Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia by President John Adams but whose commission was not subsequently delivered. Marbury petitioned the Supreme Court to force the new Secretary of State, James Madison, to deliver the documents. The Court, with John Marshall as Chief Justice, found firstly that Madison's refusal to deliver the commission was both illegal and correctible. Nonetheless, the Court stopped short of ordering Madison (by writ of mandamus) to hand over Marbury's commission, instead holding that the provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that enabled Marbury to bring his claim to the Supreme Court was itself unconstitutional, since it purported to extend the Court's original jurisdiction beyond that which Article III established. The petition was therefore denied.
Marbury v. Madison remains the single most important decision in American constitutional law. The decision expanded the power of the Supreme Court in general, by announcing that the 1789 law which gave the Court jurisdiction in this case was unconstitutional. Marbury thus lost his case, which the Court said he should have won, but, in explaining its inability to provide Marbury the remedy it said he deserved, the Court established the principle of judicial review, i.e., the power to declare a law unconstitutional.
In the fiercely contested U.S. presidential election of 1800, the three major candidates were Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and John Adams, who was the incumbent U.S. president. Jefferson and Burr, the Democratic-Republican Party candidates, soundly defeated Adams, who was a member of the Federalist Party. As the results of the election became clear in early 1801, Adams and the Federalists were determined to exercise their influence in the weeks remaining before Jefferson took office on March 4, 1801, and did all they could to fill federal offices with "anti-Jeffersonians" who were loyal to the Federalists.
In January 1801, Adams's Secretary of State, John Marshall, was named the new Chief Justice of the United States, though he also continued acting as Secretary of State until Jefferson took office. On March 2, just two days before his presidential term was to end, Adams nominated nearly 60 Federalist supporters to circuit judge and justice of the peace positions the Federalist-controlled Congress had newly created. These appointees—known as the "Midnight Judges"—included William Marbury, a prosperous financier from Maryland. An ardent Federalist, Marbury was active in Maryland politics and a vigorous supporter of the Adams presidency.
The following day, March 3, Adams's nominations were approved en masse by the U.S. Senate, and Marshall immediately signed and sealed each of the commissions. However, the commissions also had to be physically delivered to the appointees, and so Marshall dispatched his younger brother James Markham Marshall to deliver them. With only one day left before Jefferson's inauguration, James Marshall was able to deliver most of the commissions, but a few—including Marbury's—were not delivered.
On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson was sworn in and became the 3rd President of the United States. As soon as he was able, Jefferson instructed his new Secretary of State, James Madison, to withhold the undelivered appointments. In Jefferson's opinion, the commissions were void because they had not been delivered in time. Without the commissions, the appointees were unable to assume the offices and duties to which they had been appointed. In December 1801, Marbury filed suit against Madison in the Supreme Court, asking the Court to issue a writ of mandamus forcing Madison to deliver Marbury's commission. This lawsuit resulted in the case of Marbury v. Madison.
In addition to its legal issues, the case created a difficult political dilemma for Marshall and the rest of the Supreme Court. If the Court ruled in favor of Marbury and issued a writ of mandamus ordering Madison to deliver the commission, Jefferson and Madison would likely have simply ignored the order, which would have made the Court look impotent and emphasized the "shakiness" of the judiciary. On the other hand, a bare ruling against Marbury would have given Jefferson and the Republican-Democrats a clear political victory. In his "brilliant" decision, Marshall not only avoided both problems, but with "a touch of genius" also used the case to establish the principle of judicial review in American law.
On February 24, 1803, the Court rendered its decision in a unanimous (4–0)[a] opinion written by the Chief Justice, John Marshall.[b] Marshall structured the Court's opinion around a series of three questions that Marshall answered in turn: first, did Marbury have a right to his commission? Second, if Marbury had a right to his commission, was there a legal remedy for him to obtain it? And third, if there was such a remedy, was it proper for the Supreme Court to issue it?
Marbury's commission and legal remedy
The Court quickly answered the first two questions affirmatively. First, Marshall wrote that Marbury had a right to his commission because all appropriate procedures were followed—the commission was signed and sealed—and said that the delivery of the commission was merely a custom, not an essential element, of the commission. This, Marshall wrote, meant that Madison's withholding of Marbury's commission was "violative of a vested legal right".
Second, the Court ruled that the laws clearly afforded Marbury a remedy. As a general matter, Marshall said, the right of injured individuals to claim protection under the laws is "the essence of civil liberty" itself. The specific issue, however, was whether the courts—part of the judicial branch of the government—could give Marbury a remedy against the Secretary of State—part of the executive branch of the government. The Court held that so long as the remedy involved a mandatory duty to a specific person, and not a political matter left to discretion, the courts could provide the legal remedy. In Marshall's words: "The government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men."
After concluding that Marbury had a right to his commission and that a legal remedy existed to provide it to him, the Court then turned to whether or not it was proper for the Supreme Court to issue the writ Marbury requested. Marshall reiterated the distinction between the executive branch's political discretion, which he said the courts could not review, and its legally mandated ministerial duties, which the courts could review.
Marshall then addressed the most important issue of the opinion: the propriety of the Supreme Court's jurisdiction over the matter. Marbury argued that the Judiciary Act of 1789 gave the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over his case.
The Supreme Court shall also have appellate jurisdiction from the circuit courts and courts of the several states, in the cases herein after specially provided for; and shall have power to issue writs of prohibition to the district courts, when proceeding as courts of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, and writs of mandamus, in cases warranted by the principles and usages of law, to any courts appointed, or persons holding office, under the authority of the United States.— Judiciary Act of 1789, Section 13 (excerpt)
Marshall's discussion of this issue first explains the difference between original jurisdiction, in which a court is the first to hear and decide a case, and appellate jurisdiction, in which a party to a decision appeals to a higher court which reviews and then either affirms or overturns it. Because Marbury filed his suit directly with the Supreme Court, the Court would need to exercise original jurisdiction to hear it; if the Judiciary Act limited the Court's jurisdiction over writs of mandamus to appellate jurisdiction only, it would be unable to properly hear and decide Marbury's directly-filed case. The Court agreed with Marbury, and interpreted the relevant section of the Judiciary Act to authorize mandamus on original jurisdiction.
After concluding that the Judiciary Act authorized the Court's original jurisdiction, Marshall noted that this clashed with Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes the judicial branch of the U.S. government.
In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.— U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 2.
This section of Article III of the Constitution establishes that the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in cases where a U.S. State is a party to the lawsuit, or where the lawsuit involves foreign dignitaries – neither of these categories covers Marbury's justice of the peace commission, and so, according to the Constitution, the Court could only have heard Marbury's case while exercising appellate jurisdiction. Thus, the Judicial Act apparently expanded the initial scope of the Court's original jurisdiction. Marshall ruled that Congress cannot increase the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction as it was set down in the Constitution, and therefore that the relevant portion of Section 13 of the Judiciary Act violated Article III of the Constitution.
After ruling on the clash between the Act and the Constitution, Marshall, in the Supreme Court's first instance of judicial review, struck down the Judiciary Act's authorization. Marshall's justification for the Court's judicial review power began with a long disquisition on the hierarchy between statutory law and constitutional law. Marshall held "virtually as a matter of iron logic" that in the event of conflict between the Constitution and statutory laws passed by Congress, the constitutional law must be supreme.
The Court's opinion gives a number of reasons in support of judicial review. Marshall stated that deciding the constitutionality of the laws it applies is an inherent part of the American judiciary's role. In what has become the most frequently quoted line of the opinion, Marshall wrote: "It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is." Marshall reasoned that the U.S. Constitution places limits on the American government's powers, and that those limits would be meaningless unless they were subject to judicial review and enforcement. In a line borrowed from Alexander Hamilton's essay Federalist No. 78, Marshall wrote: "The powers of the legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken or forgotten, the constitution is written." Again following Federalist No. 78, Marshall held that "a law repugnant to the Constitution is void", and that the judiciary had no choice to but to follow the Constitution. Marshall also argued that the authorization in Article III of the Constitution that the Court can decide cases arising "under this Constitution" implied that the Court had the power to strike down laws conflicting with the Constitution. Lastly, Marshall argued that Article VI of the Constitution makes it the supreme law of the United States, and only gives the same status to laws made "in Pursuance thereof".
Chief Justice John Marshall's opinion in Marbury established the power of the judiciary to review the constitutionality of certain executive actions in American law. The power only extends to matters in which the executive has a legal duty to act or refrain from acting, and does not extend to matters that are entirely within the U.S. president's discretion, such as whether to veto a bill or whom to appoint to an office. This power has been the basis of many subsequent important Supreme Court decisions in American history, such as the 1974 case United States v. Nixon, in which the Court held that President Richard Nixon was required to comply with a subpoena to provide tapes of his conversations for use in a criminal trial, and which ultimately led to Nixon's resignation.
Jefferson disagreed with Marshall's reasoning in this case:
You seem to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps.... Their power [is] the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves.
Some legal scholars have questioned the legal reasoning of Marshall's opinion. They argue that Marshall selectively quoted the Judiciary Act of 1789, interpreting it to grant the Supreme Court the power to hear writs of mandamus on original jurisdiction. These scholars argue that there is little connection between the notion of original jurisdiction and the Supreme Court, and note that the Act seems to affirm the Court's power to exercise only appellate jurisdiction. Furthermore, it has been argued that the Supreme Court should have been able to issue the writ on original jurisdiction based on the fact that Article III of the Constitution granted it the right to review on original jurisdiction "all cases affecting ... public ministers and consuls", and that James Madison, Secretary of State at the time and defendant of the suit, should have fallen into that category of a "public minister [or] consul".
Marbury has also been criticized on the grounds that it was improper for the Court to consider any issues beyond jurisdiction. After concluding that the Court lacked jurisdiction in the case, the further review regarding the substantive issues presented was arguably improper. Also, it has been argued that Justice Marshall should have recused himself on the grounds that he was still acting Secretary of State at the time the commissions were to be delivered and it was his brother, James Marshall, who was charged with delivering a number of the commissions.
Because the Constitution lacks a clear statement authorizing the Federal courts to nullify the acts of coequal branches, critics contend that the argument for judicial review must rely on a significant gloss on the Constitution's terms. Despite such criticisms of Marbury v. Madison, judicial review has been accepted in the American legal community.
On the other hand, the Constitution, unlike the Articles of Confederation, created an independent judiciary, and gave it power to resolve matters arising under the Constitution, controversies between two states, and disputes between the federal government and a state, suggesting[by whom?] that the Framers of the Constitution intended the court to act as, in effect, an arbitrator, to whose decisions the parties appearing before it would be bound.
- Australian Communist Party v Commonwealth
- Judicial review in the United States
- List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 5
- Hylton v. United States
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- Due to illnesses, Justices William Cushing and Alfred Moore did not sit for oral argument or participate in the Court's decision.
- Notwithstanding the widely acknowledged brilliance of his opinion, it can be questioned whether Marshall should have recused himself from the case due to his conflict of interest. Marshall was the acting Secretary of State when the nominations were made, and he himself had signed the commissions and had been responsible for their delivery.
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|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Text of Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803) is available from: Cornell Findlaw Justia OpenJurist
- Primary Documents in American History: Marbury v. Madison from the Library of Congress
- "John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison, and Judicial Review—How the Court Became Supreme" Lesson plan for grades 9–12 from National Endowment for the Humanities
- The 200th Anniversary of Marbury v. Madison: The Reasons We Should Still Care About the Decision, and The Lingering Questions It Left Behind
- The Establishment of Judicial Review
- The 200th Anniversary of Marbury v. Madison: The Supreme Court's First Great Case
- Case Brief for Marbury v. Madison at Lawnix.com
- The short film Marbury v. Madison (1977) is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- "Supreme Court Landmark Case Marbury v. Madison" from C-SPAN's Landmark Cases: Historic Supreme Court Decisions