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Marbury v. Madison


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

In the late eighteenth century and the early nineteenth 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, on 17 February 1801 the House voted for the Democratic-Republican candidate, Thomas Jefferson.

The outgoing president, the Federalist John Adams, had as his secretary of state the distinguished lawyer John Marshall. In January of 1801, Adams secured Marshall's nomination as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Marshall was sworn in on 4 February, but continued to serve as Adams's secretary of state until 3 March, when Adams's 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' effort to preserve their control over the judicial arm of government, on 27 February 1801 Congress gave Adams the power to appoint justices of the peace for the District of Columbia. On 2 March, 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 3 March. Jefferson's term began on 4 March, 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.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1637 to 1832Marbury v. Madison - Significance, Marbury Goes To Court, Marshall Proclaims The Doctrine Of Judicial Review, Justice Alfred Moore