Marbury v. Madison Summary
The Supreme Court established the ability of courts to examine Congressional acts for constitutionality and to overturn them for being unconstitutional through the process of “judicial review”. In this case, the Court used “judicial review” as a way of declaring the portion of the Judiciary Act of 1789—which allowed for writs of mandamus to be issued by courts to officers of the United States—to be invalid.
Key Players in Marbury v. Madison
- 1Appellants: Marbury, who demanded that the court issue a writ of mandamus ordering Madison to provide commissions for the office of justice of the peace to him and others appointed as such.
- 2Appellees: James Madison, U.S. Secretary of State, who withheld commissions for the office of justice of the peace to Marbury and others appointed.
Marbury v. Madison Brief
The central theme of this case is the concept of judicial review, which allows the Supreme Court to examine legislation enacted by Congress for constitutionality and to invalidate such legislation if it is found to be unconstitutional.
Marbury v. Madison Facts
President Adams appointed Marbury to a new position as justice of the peace. To begin his new position, he had to receive a document—a “commission”—which officially gave the role to him. The President signed the commission for Marbury and all those appointed to the office of justice of the peace at the time of appointment. James Madison was supposed to have given Marbury this document but failed to do so. Marbury and other appointed justices of the peace who had not received their commissions filed a lawsuit demanding that a writ of mandamus be issued which ordered Madison to send Marbury and the other justices of the peace their commissions. The central issues in the lawsuit were (i) whether it is constitutional for the Supreme Court to issue writs of mandamus; (ii) whether the U.S. Secretary of State is allowed to issue writs of mandamus; (iii) whether, in this case involving commissions, the Supreme Court can issue a writ of mandamus to the U.S. Secretary of State.
The Marbury v. Madison Decision
The Court noted that the appointment of Marbury to the role of justice of the peace by the President created a “vested legal right” in Marbury to receive the office of justice of the peace even before the commission was delivered to him. It went on to detail how the signing of the Marbury’s commission by the President effectively constituted an appointment and how the signing of the commission by the President created a vested, exclusive right in Marbury to accept or reject the appointment. The Court described the principle that the appointment of an officer who is not removable at will by the President is irrevocable and “cannot be annulled”.
The Court concluded that the courts are empowered to provide remedies to citizens whose “vested rights” have been violated. The Court also noted that “the judicial power of the United States is extended to all cases arising under the constitution” and, further, asserted that it was a “judicial duty” to, when the constitution and an enacted law conflict, decide which rule applies to a particular case. Based on the powers granted to the Court through the Constitution, the Court decided that the power of “judicial review” allowed it to examine the constitutionality of legislation and to determine when the violation of vested rights is the result of a law being unconstitutional (The Court concluded that “the judicial power of the United States is extended to all cases arising under the constitution” and “the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is”). It held that that the part of the legislation—the Judiciary Act of 1789—which established the federal courts and allowed the courts to issue writs of mandamus to officers of the United States allowed the courts to go beyond the powers reserved for them in the Constitution by engaging in an act that constitutes an “original legal action” against an “officer of the United States”. Such original jurisdiction was not explicitly established for the courts by the Constitution. In that way, the Court found that that portion of the Act unconstitutional.
Key Takeaways for Law Students
- 1“Judicial review” is a remedy that allows a court to review acts of Congress for constitutionality and to hold that such acts are invalid if they are unconstitutional.
- 2Writs of mandamus, as allowed for by the Judiciary Act of 1789, are unconstitutional; and the portion of the Act which allows for them is invalid.