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Marbury v. Madison is undoubtedly one of the most important Supreme Court cases of all time. This case came about during a time when many citizens were skeptical of the court’s power. Ultimately, this case strengthened the public’s perception of the court as an institution and also established its power of judicial review. In the article discussing the Marbury v. Madison decision, the author’s thesis was, “The particular phraseology of the Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle that a law repugnant to the constitution is void.
” (P.53, 55)
In this case, the law being referred to is the Judiciary Act of 1789. (P.51) Before getting into the arguments defending the thesis, it is important to note that in this case, Marbury was seeking a writ of mandamus, which is a court order directing a person to perform a certain act. In this situation, Marbury was seeking a writ of mandamus for Secretary of State James Madison to deliver his commission, appointing him to the Supreme Court.
The first piece of evidence supporting the author’s thesis lies within the context of how the Supreme Court interpreted the Judiciary Act of 1789.
Ultimately, the court ruled a section of this act to be in conflict with the Constitution. The first piece of evidence involves a conflict between appellate jurisdiction and original jurisdiction. Appellate jurisdiction is defined as a court having the right to hear a case from a lower court. Original jurisdiction is the court where a case goes first.
In Marbury v. Madison, Marbury filed the case as original jurisdiction. (P.51) Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 reads, “The Supreme Court shall also have appellate jurisdiction from the circuit courts and courts of the several states, in the cases herein after specifically provided for; and shall have power to issue… 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.” (P.51) While making his decision in the case, Chief Justice Marshall stated he did not have the power to issue a writ of mandamus because Marbury filed the case as original jurisdiction rather than appellate. (P.51) An additional piece of evidence the author used to support their thesis that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void was that the United States government assigns different departments to their respective powers. (P.53)
The article goes on to say, “The powers of legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken, or forgotten, the constitution is written.” (P.53) With this point, the author is essentially saying the legislative branch has no right to dictate the rules the judicial branch run by if those rules conflict with the Constitution. A third piece of evidence the author used to support their thesis was essentially achieved by questioning the thesis itself. For example, the author presented a scenario where both a law and the Constitution apply to a particular case. (P.54) In this situation, the author said, “The court must either decide that case conformably to the constitution, disregarding the law; or conformably to the law, disregarding the constitution.” (P.54) Applying this type of questioning to the thesis challenges the existence and purpose of the Constitution in the first place.
Overall, I believe the author’s first argument, regarding appellate and original jurisdiction was strong. I believe this argument was strong because it was solely based on fact. For example, the constitution states, “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.” (P.51) This case had no affect on any of these people listed. It could not be more clearly stated in the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the United States, the rules which dictate original and appellate jurisdiction. This particular piece of evidence did indeed justify the thesis.
Once again, the evidence came straight from the constitution; therefore, it was based strictly on fact. The second argument the author used to defend their thesis, describing the respective powers of government departments, was reasonably strong, but also had some weaknesses. First, I believe the argument was strong because the three branches of government were in fact created to limit one another in the system of checks and balances. This is a fundamental principle of American government, created by the Founding Fathers. This principle was created to prevent conflicts such as the one in Marbury v. Madison where an act of Congress attempted to dictate the function of the Supreme Court.
However, a weakness to this point occurs when a law is passed by Congress and is not yet challenged in court. For example, if a law specifically contradicts the Constitution, but the court has not yet deemed that law unconstitutional, citizens must abide by that law. All in all, this piece of evidence justified the thesis by helping establish the power of the judicial branch over the other branches, specifically the legislature. The third argument used to defend the thesis, the act of questioning the thesis itself, was the strongest piece of evidence in my opinion. I believe this argument was the strongest because it used common sense to establish why a law repugnant to the Constitution is void.
The author stated that an act, according to the principles and theory of our government, is entirely void, is yet, in practice, completely obligatory. (P.54) This sentence is essentially saying if laws repugnant to the constitution were not void, the Constitution would serve no purpose. If these laws not void under the constitution were indeed a real thing, it would diminish the entire American government. Furthermore, this specific argument was justified by stating, “In declaring what shall be the supreme law of the land, the Constitution is first mentioned.” (P.54)
The author of this article on Marbury v. Madison listed several arguments to support their thesis, “The particular phraseology of the Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle that a law repugnant to the constitution is void.” However, three in particular stuck out most to me. I do support the author’s conclusions, which is also saying I support the court’s decision in the case. I agree with the idea that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and that an act of legislature inconsistent with that should be void. The author’s conclusions implied the Supreme Court has the power of judicial review in any case involving a law repugnant to the Constitution. The establishment of judicial review in the Supreme Court was a monumental event for the both the citizens of the United States, as well as the government.
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