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Congress enacted the Organic Act which authorized John Adams to appoint forty-two justices of the peace for the District of Colombia. In the confusion of the Adams administration’s last days in office, Marshall (then Secretary of State), failed to deliver some of these commissions. When the new administration came into office, James Madison, the new Secretary of State, acting under orders from Jefferson, refused to deliver at least five of the commissions.
William Marbury and three others were denied their commissions and therefore went directly to the Supreme Court and asked it to issue a writ of mandamus.
Marbury thought he could take his case directly to the court because section 13 of the 1789 Judiciary Act gave the Court the power to issue writs of mandamus to anyone holding federal office. Issues:
Does Marbury have a right to the commission? Does the law grant Marbury a remedy? Does the Supreme Court have the authority to review acts of Congress and determine whether they are unconstitutional and therefore void? Can Congress expand the scope of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction beyond what is specified in Article III of the Constitution? Does the Supreme Court have original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus? Holding:
Yes. Marbury has a right to the commission. The order granting the commission takes effect when the Executive’s constitutional power of appointment has been exercised, and the power has been exercised when the last act required from the person possessing the power has been performed. The grant of the commission to Marbury became effective when signed by President Adams.
Yes. The law grants Marbury a remedy.The very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of every individual to claim the protection of the laws whenever he receives an injury.
One of the first duties of government is to afford that protection. Where a specific duty is assigned by law, and individual rights depend upon the performance of that duty, the individual who considers himself injured has a right to resort to the law for a remedy. The President, by signing the commission, appointed Marbury a justice of the peace in the District of Columbia. The seal of the United States, affixed thereto by the Secretary of State, is conclusive testimony of the verity of the signature, and of the completion of the appointment. Having this legal right to the office, he has a consequent right to the commission, a refusal to deliver which is a plain violation of that right for which the laws of the country afford him a remedy.
Yes. The Supreme Court has the authority to review acts of Congress and determine whether they are unconstitutional and therefore void. It is emphatically the duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases must, of necessity, expound and interpret the rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the Court must decide on the operation of each. If courts are to regard the Constitution, and the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature, the Constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply.
No. Congress cannot expand the scope of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction beyond what is specified in Article III of the Constitution. The Constitution states that “the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction in all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be a party.
In all other cases, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction.” If it had been intended to leave it in the discretion of the Legislature to apportion the judicial power between the Supreme and inferior courts according to the will of that body, this section is mere surplusage and is entirely without meaning. If Congress remains at liberty to give this court appellate jurisdiction where the Constitution has declared their jurisdiction shall be original, and original jurisdiction where the Constitution has declared it shall be appellate, the distribution of jurisdiction made in the Constitution, is form without substance. No. The Supreme Court does not have original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus.
To enable this court then to issue a mandamus, it must be shown to be an exercise of appellate jurisdiction, or to be necessary to enable them to exercise appellate jurisdiction. It is the essential criterion of appellate jurisdiction that it revises and corrects the proceedings in a cause already instituted, and does not create that case. Although, therefore, a mandamus may be directed to courts, yet to issue such a writ to an officer for the delivery of a paper is, in effect, the same as to sustain an original action for that paper, and is therefore a matter of original jurisdiction.
Marbury V. Madison Discussion Questions
1. Judicial review is simply the established system under which the other legislative and executive branches actions are scrutinized and reviewed as to the constitutionality of their doings. The idea of judicial review established the cornerstone of the system of checks and balances. 2. Without this discrete power our government would be a hierarchy of power. Much like the founding fathers were afraid of it becoming at the time, like King George III’s British Empire.
In essence, it would give the ability to the executive and legislative branches to perform their dutiful tasks of making laws, negotiating treaties, and declaring war without the check to even make sure it falls in line with the foundation with which was established by the Constitution. Without it, our government would simply be a bust and furthermore return to what it was much like under the Articles of Confederation.
Only with unprecedented power given to the national government as opposed to the state governments. 3. Individual freedoms could be somewhat sustained as to what was presented by the Bill of Rights. The only catch is that no one would be able to review the fact of whether or not said passed law violates the Bill of Rights.
The idea of limited government would be completely nonexistent, and as stated earlier would represent the British Empire. 4. Although not granted directly by the Constitution, Justice Marshall clearly understood the imperative decision and its everlasting effect he had to make. To view a government without the established policy of judicial review, Marshall comprehended quite well what it would look like. Because of this Justice Marshall reasoned that something is needed to keep in check the other two branches of government along with the Constitution. Therefore he idealized that if one law conflicts with the Constitution or two laws are conflicting, the Supreme Court has the ultimate decision as to uphold or strike down the law, thus establishing judicial review.
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