Marbury v. Madison Case Brief

Facts of the case

Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in the 1800 presidential election. Before Jefferson took office on March 4, 1801, Adams and Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1801, which created new courts, added judges, and gave the president more control over appointment of judges. The Act was essentially an attempt by Adams and his party to frustrate his successor, as he used the act to appoint 16 new circuit judges and 42 new justices of the peace. The appointees were approved by the Senate, but they would not be valid until their commissions were delivered by the Secretary of State.William Marbury had been appointed Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia, but his commission was not delivered. Marbury petitioned the Supreme Court to compel the new Secretary of State, James Madison, to deliver the documents. Marbury, joined by three other similarly situated appointees, petitioned for a writ of mandamus compelling the delivery of the commissions.

Why is the case important?

William Marbury (Marbury), an end-of-term appointee of President John Adams (President Adams) to a justice of the peace position in the District of Columbia, brought suit against President Thomas Jefferson’s (President Jefferson) Secretary of State, James Madison, seeking delivery of his commission.


Is Marbury entitled to mandamus from the Supreme Court?


No. Case dismissed for want of jurisdiction. As the President signed Marbury’s commission after his confirmation, the appointment has been made, and Marbury has a right to the commission. Given that the law imposed a duty on the office of the president to deliver Marbury’s commission, that the Supreme Court has the power to review executive actions when the executive acts as an officer of the law and the nature of the writ of mandamus to direct an officer of the government “to do a particular thing therein specified,” mandamus is the appropriate remedy, if available to the Supreme Court. To issue mandamus to the Secretary of State really is to sustain an original action, which is (in this case) outside the constitutional limits of jurisdiction imposed on the Supreme Court.


  • Advocates: Charles Lee for Marbury Levi Lincoln, Sr. for Madison
  • Petitioner: William Marbury
  • Respondent: James Madison, Secretary of State
  • DECIDED BY:Marshall Court
  • Location: The White House
Citation: 5 US 137 (1803)
Argued: Feb 11, 1803
Decided: Feb 24, 1803
Marbury v. Madison Case Brief