Marbury v. Madison

Why is the case important?

Marbury v. Madison Brief The central theme of this case is the concept of judicial review, which allows the Supreme Court to examine legislation enacted by Congress for constitutionality and to invalidate such legislation if it is found to be unconstitutional.


Before the inauguration of President Jefferson, outgoing President Adams attempted to secure Federalist control of the judiciary by creating new judgeships and filling them with Federalist appointees. Included in these efforts was the nomination by President Adams, under the Organic Act of the District of Columbia (the District), of 42 new justices of the peace for the District, which were confirmed by the Senate the day before President Jefferson’s inauguration. A few of the commissions, including Marbury’s, were undelivered when President Jefferson took office. The new president instructed Secretary of State James Madison to withhold delivery of the commissions. Marbury sought mandamus in the Supreme Court, requiring James Madison to deliver his commission.

Key Players

1 Appellants : Marbury, who demanded that the court issue a writ of mandamus ordering Madison to provide commissions for the office of justice of the peace to him and others appointed as such.
2 Appellees : James Madison, U.S. Secretary of State, who withheld commissions for the office of justice of the peace to Marbury and others appointed.


Do the plaintiffs have a right to receive their commissions? Can they sue for their commissions in court? Does the Supreme Court have the authority to order the delivery of their commissions?


The Court found that Madison’s refusal to deliver the commission was illegal, but did not order Madison to hand over Marbury’s commission via writ of mandamus. Instead, the Court held that the provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 enabling Marbury to bring his claim to the Supreme Court was itself unconstitutional, since it purported to extend the Court’s original jurisdiction beyond that which Article III, Section 2, established. Marshall expanded that a writ of mandamus was the proper way to seek a remedy, but concluded the Court could not issue it. Marshall reasoned that the Judiciary Act of 1789 conflicted with the Constitution. Congress did not have power to modify the Constitution through regular legislation because Supremacy Clause places the Constitution before the laws. In so holding, Marshall established the principle of judicial review, i.e., the power to declare a law unconstitutional.

What was the effect of the supreme court case Marbury v. Madison?


The importance of Marbury v. Madison is both political and legal. Although the case establishes the traditions of judicial review and a litigable constitution on which the remainder of constitutional law rests, it also transformed the Supreme Court from an incongruous institution to an equipotent head of a branch of the federal government. Marbury v. Madison Summary The Supreme Court established The ability of courts to examine Congressional acts for constitutionality and to overturn them for being unconstitutional through The process of “judicial review”. In this case, The Court used “judicial review” as a way of declaring The portion of The Judiciary Act of 1789—which allowed for writs of mandamus to be issued by courts to officers of The United States—to be invalid.

Charles Lee for Marbury, Levi Lincoln, Sr. for Madison
The White House
James Madison, Secretary of State
William Marbury
Marshall Court
5 US 137 (1803)
Feb 11, 1803
Feb 24, 1803