Free «Marbury vs Madison» Essay Sample


The case of Marbury v. Madison remains to be the milestone case in the history of the United State law and the law worldwide. The case set a floor for the principle of judicial review as stipulated by Article III of the United States Constitution. The case resulted into a court decided to void a law on the ground that it was unconstitutional making the decision the first in the history of law worldwide.

The case came through a petition made by William Marbury to the Supreme Court concerning his appointment as the Justice of the Peace, but he never received his commission. His petition to the Supreme Court required the court to compel the Secretary of State to deliver the commission. However, the petition was nullified by the court together with the Chief Justice with the decision that the statute under which his claim was based was unconstitutional.

The case formed the first time for a statute to be declared unconstitutional in the U.S history, and, as a result, it became a window for the principle of judicial review in the Americas law community. The concept provides for the cancellation of another form of government actions hence defining the checks and balances of the U.S structure of government.

Literature review

Background of the case

During the 1800 Presidential election, the incumbent President John Adams was defeated by an anti-federalist Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson became the third United States President. Typically, the incoming President does not take office immediately after the declaration of the win. This gave an opportunity to Adams and his Federalist to remain in power for almost one month. During the one-month period, the Judiciary Act of 1801 was passed as a modification of the existing Act of 1789. The new act led to the establishment of ten extra district courts, increasing circuit courts to six in number and requiring additional judges. This gave the President an authoritative opportunity to appoint Justices of the peace and Federal judges. With the new act, the number of Supreme Court judges reduced to five.

Adams administration attempted to perplex the incoming administration and congress by appointing sixteen judges to the circuit court and forty-two justices of peace who was federalist. The judges occupied the offices in Alexandria and Washington area. William Marbury was one of the appointees and an active and enthusiastic federalist who strongly supported the Adams administration. The appointment was to the position of justice of the peace for a term of five years in the District of Columbia.

The appointment afterwards was unanimously approved by the senate, but for it to be effective commissions must be send to those appointed. The delivery task in that time rests in the Chief Justice who by then was John Marshall who assumed the job of Secretary of state via a request by Adams.

Due to the lapse of Adams administration time, not all the commissions were delivered to the respective appointees. After the inauguration ceremony, which resulted into the swearing in of Thomas Jefferson, the delivery of the remaining appointments was stopped through a Presidential order until the arrival of James Madison who was the newly appointed Secretary of State. This led to the appointees' inability to take office, and perform the necessary duties, which accompany their appointments. The delay in delivery according to the President would render the appointments null and void.

The new anti-federalist seventh congress immediate action was to void the new Judiciary Act of 1801 with another Act known as the Judiciary Act of 1802. The Judiciary Act of 1802 would ensure that the expanded judicial branch operates under the confines of Judiciary Act of 1789. In addition, the congress reduced the annual sessions of the Supreme Court to one and cancelled the court's term, which was scheduled to begin on June 1802. The move was intended to delay a court ruling on the constitutionality of the Judiciary Act of 1802, which were used to repeal the Judiciary Act of 1802 for months hence giving room for the new judicial system to be operational.

Decision on the case

The decision was rendered on February 24, 1803, which was undisputed (4-0) decision. Marbury according to the decision had the right to his commission. In addition, the court continued to make a ruling that it did not have the authority to compel Madison who was the Secretary of State to deliver the commission. The opinion of the court was presented by the Chief Justice in form of three separate questions. The questions include; did Marbury have a right to the commission? Did the laws provide for a legal remedy for Marbury? And is a writ of mandamus the right legal remedy?

According to the Chief Justice, Murbary had a right to receive his commission as stipulated by the constitution since it was a vested legal right. Hence, the non-delivery of the commission violated the legal right of Marbury.

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For the second question, the Chief Justice opinion was founded on the government believes in the rule of law. Incase the violation of a legal right is not accorded the right legal remedy then the government will be violating its principles hence will not deserve any kind of high title of a government of laws. The main legal principle, which Marbury depend upon, is the conception that any violation of a vested lawful right should be furnished with a lawful remedy. To strengthen Marbury qualification of a lawful remedy, the Chief Justice gave a distinction between the two different types of executive actions. Executive actions are classified as either political or ministerial actions. Under political actions, a certain degree of discretion can be exercised by an official. However, in ministerial functions the official is lawfully required to perform a task. The Chief Justice established that the delivery of the commission was a purely ministerial action that is constitutional, and hence Marbury deserves the right to be furnished with an appropriate legal remedy.

The third question analysis, the Chief Justice, further subdivided it into two parts. The first part seeks to identify if the request for an injunction of mandamus was the correct remedy of restoring Marbury to his lawful right. To the Chief Justice an injunction of mandamus was the perfect lawful means. This is because the injunction of mandamus could compel an official to do what is constitutionally requisite of him and in this particular case deliver a commission. The second part identifies if the court can issue the injunction.

The Chief Justice initially analyzed the Judiciary Act of 1789 and established that the Act self-styled, in that, it gave the Supreme Court an unusual jurisdiction over injunctions of mandamus. The Chief Justice continued to examine the jurisdictions of the Supreme Court as stipulated in Article III of the United States Constitution. According to Marbury the Constitution was intended to lay the foundation for original power, which the congress, could only add to, but the argument was opposed by the Chief Justice by maintaining that Congress had no such authority to modify the original jurisdictions of the Supreme Court. As a result, Marshall established that there was a conflict between the Judiciary Act and the Constitution.

The existence of the conflict gave rise to the essential question concerning what actions or occurrence should be followed when such conflict occur. In accordance to the Chief Justice, any Act of the Congress that is in conflict with the Constitution should be rendered unlawful, and the Constitution should always be followed because it is supreme. The move strengthens the opinion of judicial review. In support of the opinion, the Chief Justice referred to the need for a written constitution stating that there is no need to have a written constitution yet the court can rule against it or take no notice of it.

However, the courts have the key responsibility of deciding cases, they ought to first, establish the particular law within which the case lie and applies. Therefore, when two distinct laws are applicable in a particular case, the court should point out the exact law that can be applied comfortably. The elaborative opinion of the Chief Justice was based on the judges' oath and the supremacy of the Constitution. The judges are expected in their oath to uphold the constitution, and the Supremacy clause has listed the constitution right before the United States laws.

The court denied the request made maintaining that it had not jurisdiction since Section 13 of the Act passed by congress known as the Judiciary Act of 1789 which grant the court the authority to render such an injunction was unlawful and, therefore, void. With such a decision, which was undisputed, Marbury never came to the realization of the appointment to be the Justice of the Peace in Washington area specifically the District of Columbia.

Development of judicial Review

Since the controversial decision, development of the judicial review has recorded a slow pace. Within the period of 1803 and 1965, the court was able to only put two Acts of congress aside, which included that of the Marbury petition. The decision formed the basis for the court to knock down other national laws and legislation. The Supreme Court, for instance, in the period 1865 to 1894 rendered around twenty decisions in around 171 cases, which nullified, national laws based on the Marbury case decision. The citation of Marbury had a bearing on judicial review. During the whole period, criticism aligned with Marbury v. Madison grew spectacularly. The criticism overwhelmed during the 1890's concerning the constitutionality of judicial review with the court applying the Tenth Amendment to seal its philosophy of laissez-faire. This leads to the frustrations of attempts by both the federal and state governments to control business.

The court up to 1971 is seen to have not abused the powers vested in it concerning judicial review. This has facilitated a healthy existence of the three branches of the government even though the judicial branch is purported to be the weakest. The decisions of the judicial branch can be fully enforced given good effort and contribution of the other two branches. With the underlying drawbacks of the court, the court has been in a position of evolve and becoming one of the powerful branch in the government. The power of the court has been expanded given its proper utilization of the power vested in it. The abuse of power has never been prevalent since the court for a long period of time had not struck down an enormous number of legislation passed by Congress. The move in which the appointed officers nullifying legislation passed by elected officials appears to undermine the suggestion of democracy.

The decision leads to essential effects on Federalism where the government was controlled by a central government and by a few elite and ruling classes. Issues rooted in Fedaralism were incorporated in the constitution, but it lead to the emergence of two doctrines that were competing. The doctrines are; national supremacy and dual federalism. National supremacy is based on the assumption that the national government has the supreme power and, therefore, the actions performed by the national government even if it violates states' jurisdiction. For, the doctrine of national supremacy, a constitution is a canon that gives power to the federal government via the populace. The doctrine of dual federalism is based on the assumption that the federal and state government have equal sovereignty with each having supreme jurisdiction. The constitution for the two governments is a contract and a compact between the two governments. The effect is important because in case of adjudication the decision empowers the national government to set standards for the adjudication process.

The idea of judicial review has provided room for check and balances. The issue of interpreting the constitution is clearly expounded in the concept of departmentalism where all the public officers, legislatures and judges ought to interpret the constitution for them to perform their tasks fully.


In summing up, the case of Marbury v. Madison and the idea of judicial review have advanced into an incredibly influential and essential function of the Supreme Court in United States. However, it is not precise in the Constitution of the nation. The then Chief Justice was aware of the limited power of the court and, therefore, set up an uncovered precedent of the jurisdiction. With his ardent insight, he established the correctness of the political circumstance and held the opportunity to render a never and ever controversial decision. The fact that the court was not in a position of abusing its power and the slow pace of judicial review development played an important role in the execution of the concept of judicial review.

After research, it is clear that the court ought to be given the profound power. This is because the judicial branch is structured as the weakest hence possession of such powers is sensible. The courts are independent and free from political interference. Hence, they cannot misuse its power but utilize it fully to serve the interest of the nation. The concept of judicial review is essential since it gives a window for checks and balances. These will ensure that the constitution is anti-majoritarian.

Looking back to the United States history, the function of the court has expansively changed. Initially, the courts' power was minimal, and this power has matured relative to the development of United States. The case of Marbury v. Madison is the successful and powerful example for the court. The case attracts both positive and negative criticism. The positive critics see it as important for democracy to prevail, but the negative critics looks at it as an example of unconstitutional power. Whatever the case, the power rest with the court and the court has nurtured the power into a well-built weapon that the government can use to control itself. The decision had important effects on federalism since the national government exercise the jurisdiction of judicial review to control laws passed by the state government hence promoting the conception of federal supremacy.


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