Supreme Court Case Marbury v. Madison


The Case

The case Marbury v. Madison commences following the 1800presidential election. Thomas Jefferson of the Republican Party wonthe election defeating the reelection of Federalist, John Adams(Iannacci, 2015). Adams was apprehensive that his party was relegatedto the judicial arm of government. In an effort to reinforceFederalist authority, he chose John Marshall, then Secretary of Stateto become the Supreme Court Chief Justice. He then promptly rushed toselect individuals from the Federalist Party to fill administrativepositions created by outgoing Congress. Most of the individuals Adamsappointed were judges (Iannacci, 2015).

For an individual to take the position of a Judge officially, it wasmandatory to be issued with official paperwork. The Secretary ofState, working under the directive of John Adams, was accountable forfinalizing and delivering the paperwork, as well as hand it over tothe newly selected judges (Iannacci, 2015). Although the Secretary ofState sealed and signed the paperwork as expected, there wereappointed judges that did not receive their paperwork. Marshallpresumed that James Madison, who took over the position of Secretaryof State, would complete the delivery of the remaining paperwork(Iannacci, 2015). However, when Jefferson took over his presidentialposition, he instructed Madison to abandon the delivery of theremaining paperwork since he was adamant to have members from theopposition party hold official position (Iannacci, 2015).

Among the appointed judges that did not receive their paperwork wasWilliam Marbury. This meant that without the paperwork, it wasimpossible for Marbury to become a judge. He felt failing to beissued with the paperwork was unjust and progressed to sue JamesMadison, asking the American Supreme Court to issue an ordermandating Madison to deliver the paperwork (McBride, 2006).Strangely, it was the now acting Supreme Court Chief Justice,Marshall, previously the Secretary of State that failed to completeissuing the paperwork, who was to rule in the case. The court wasasked to determine if it was legal for Marbury to have hiscommission, supposing the right was violated, was there a remedyprovided by law, and assuming there was a remedy, would it be adirect Supreme Court order (McBride, 2006). Marshall ruled againstthe delivery of Adams’ commissions citing the Judiciary Act of1789, which declared such authority unconstitutional (McBride, 2006).

Implications on the Judicial Branch Powers

The case is credited with the establishment of the Judicial Reviewconcept, or the Judiciary Branch’s power to declare theunconstitutionality of a law (Sikkenga, 2015). This means that theSupreme Court has the capability to restrict Congressional authoritythrough declaration of legislation as unconstitutional. Following thecase, the Supreme Court became a self-governing political andconstitutional branch of the federal administration, which waspreviously unclear when the Republic party was in power. As at 1803,the Supreme Court faced major political pressure due to greaterFederalist authority (Sikkenga, 2015). The Federalists expected thatthe Court would issue Marbury with his commission. Such a move wouldprompt Jefferson to fail to comply, hence weakening federal judiciaryand favor state courts. Marshall was clever to avoid both extremes.He ruled that Madison owed Marbury, which was pleasing to theFederalists. However, Marshall evaded the disagreement with Jeffersonnoting the Court was not in a position to issue Madison to hand overthe commission lawfully (Sikkenga, 2015). Marshall decided the casein a manner, which safeguarded as well as reinforced the sovereigntyof the federal judiciary.


Iannacci, N. (2015). Marbury v. Madison: The Supreme Court claims itspower. Constitution Daily. Retrieved from supreme-court-claims-its-power/

McBride, A. (2006). Marbury v. Madison (1803). The Supreme Court.Retrieved from

Sikkenga, J. (2015). Marbury v. Madison. Chief Justice Marshall’sarticulation of judicial independence. Teaching American History.Retrieved from