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Marbury v. Madison establishes judicial review

In 1803, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Marshall, decided the landmark case of William Marbury v. James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States and confirmed the legal principle of judicial review—the ability of the Supreme Court to limit Congressional power by declaring legislation unconstitutional.

The court ruled that the new president, Thomas Jefferson, via his secretary of state, James Madison, was wrong to prevent William Marbury from taking office as justice of the peace. However, it also ruled that the court had no jurisdiction in the case and could not force Madison to seat Marbury. The Judiciary Act of 1789 gave the Supreme Court jurisdiction, but the Marshall court ruled the Act of 1789 to be an unconstitutional extension of judiciary power into the realm of the executive.

John Marshall argued that acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution are not law and non-binding to the courts; the judiciary’s first responsibility is always to uphold the Constitution. If two laws conflict, the court bears responsibility for deciding which law applies in any given case. Thus, Marbury never received his job.

Jefferson and Madison objected to the appointments of Marbury and the so-called “midnight judges” by previous president, John Adams, just hours before Jefferson took office. Many of these Federalist judges were taking the bench in new courts formed by the Judiciary Act, which the lame-duck Federalist Congress passed less than a month before Jefferson’s inauguration.

President Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican followers launched a series of attacks against the Federalist-controlled courts. The new Democratic-Republican-controlled Congress easily eliminated most of the midnight judges by repealing the Judiciary Act in 1802.


Source: Marbury v. Madison establishes judicial review
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