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Marbury v. Madison: 1803

Marbury Goes To Court, Marshall Proclaims The Doctrine Of Judicial Review, Suggestions For Further Reading

Plaintiffs: William Marbury, William Harper, Robert R. Hooe, and Dennis Ramsay
Defendant: Secretary of State James Madison
Plaintiff Claim: That Madison had illegally refused to deliver judicial commissions to their rightful recipients
Chief Defense Lawyer: U.S. Attorney General Levi Lincoln
Chief Lawyer for Plaintiffs: Charles Lee
Justices: Samuel Chase, William Cushing, John Marshall, Alfred Moore, William Paterson, and Bushrod Washington
Place: Washington, D.C.
Dates of Trial: February 10-11, 1803
Verdict: Plaintiffs could not force Madison to deliver the commissions, because the Judiciary Act of 1789 was nconstitutional.

SIGNIFICANCE: Marbury v. Madison may be the most important case in American history, because it established the principle of judicial review.

In the late 18th century and early 19th century, the two parties dominating the American political scene were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. In the presidential election of 1800, the Electoral College had a tie vote, and it fell to the House of Representatives to decide the outcome. After a bitter battle and 36 ballots, the House voted February 17, 1801 for Democratic-Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson.

The outgoing president, Federalist John Adams, had as his secretary of state the distinguished lawyer John Marshall. In January 1801, Adams secured Marshall's nomination as chief justice of the United States. Marshall was sworn in February 4 but continued to serve as Adams' secretary of state until March 3, when Adams' term ended. Meanwhile, Adams and the Federalists in Congress had been moving to pack the federal judiciary with as many new Federalist judges as possible before the Jefferson administration took power.

As part of the Federalists' efforts to preserve their control over the judiciary, on February 27, 1801, Congress gave Adams the power to appoint justices of the peace for the District of Columbia. On March 2, one day before the end of his term, Adams appointed 42 justices of the peace, and Congress approved their appointments the next day. As secretary of state, Marshall signed and sealed the necessary judicial commissions, but the commissions were not delivered by the end of March 3. Thomas Jefferson's term began March 4, and he ordered his new secretary of state, James Madison, not to deliver the commissions. Jefferson decided to view the commissions as invalid unless delivered.

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