Under Article III of the Constitution the judicial branch was established, but rather implicit in proportion to the other two branches of government. This ambiguity allocates various opportunities for interpretation of judicial power. In Federalist 78, Alexander Hamilton addresses the role of the judiciary branch within the federal government in regards to political immunity of judges through life tenure and contribution to checks and balances through power or judicial review.
Chief Justice John Marshall, in his ruling of Marbury v. Madison, established the principle of judicial review advocated by Hamilton in the Federalist Papers. Originally designated as the weakest of the three branches in government by the framers of the Constitution, the Judiciary has accumulated an increase in political influence through judiciary review and has proven to be an essential institution in the separation of powers as well as an active participant in the system of checks and balances.
According to Hamilton in Federalist 78, the judicial branch has the least amount of power among the three branches of government. The Judiciary is “the weakest of the three departments of power, that it can never attack with success either of the other two” (Woll, 410). The enumerated powers of Congress include the authority to collect taxes, borrow money, regulate commerce, and pass federal law. These assigned powers permit Congress to control the economy and regulate the public by adopting legislations.
The Executive branch has the power to enforce laws, negotiate treaties, and accept ambassadors. Possessing these powers along with being the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, the President is capable of leading the federal government through perils pertaining to the public. The Judiciary “has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatever? It may truly be said to have neither FORCE NOR WILL, but merely judgment” (Woll, 410).
The Judicial branch lacks the influential power possessed by Congress and the President in the federal government and is further limited by presidential appointment of justices and congressional decision to establish lower courts. The Supreme Courts’ ability to pass judgment, however, gives significant power to the branch and is essential in the system of checks and balances. The judicial branch is provided with the power to resolve conflicts emerging between federal and state laws as well as between citizens of different states, but more importantly the power to decide constitutionality of laws.
It is able to check the executive and legislative branch by declaring their actions unconstitutional and therefore null. The Constitution provides judges with life tenure in order to protect the judicial branch from political pressures imposed by the public or the other branches of government. In Federalist 78, Hamilton states that the “independence of judges is equally requisite to guard the constitution and the rights of individuals” (Woll, 409). Unlimited terms of judges enable them to articulate impartial judgments despite popular politics.
They are not at risk of losing their political position when ruling against the desires of powerful institutions. Immunity to political influence allocates court jurisdictions that are in the interest of justice and equality. The alternative of “periodical appointments, however regulated, or by whomsoever made, would, in some way or other, be fatal to their necessary independence. If the power of making them was committed either to the executive or legislature, there would be danger of an improper compliance to the branch with possessed it” (Woll, 412).
Limiting the term of judges would motivate their loyalty to the agency responsible for appointments in order to ensure future succession. Hamilton argues that the judicial branch is in “continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed or influenced by its coordinate branches; that, as nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence as PERMANECNY IN OFFICE” (Woll, 410). Domination of the judicial branch by the executive or legislative branch undermines the essential structure of separated powers.
Powers partitioned to the judiciary branch would be under the control and devoted to the benefit of the other two branches. The prominent case of Marbury v. Madison established the principle of judicial review, implied by Hamilton when he stated in the Federalist Papers that, “No legislative act? contrary to the constitution can be valid” (Woll, 411). President John Adams appointed Marbury as justice of the peace during his infamous midnight appointment, which was a desperate effort on the part of the Federalist to fill judicial position before leaving office.
Marbury’s commission, however, was never delivered once Jefferson took office. James Madison, as new secretary of state, refused to comply with the Federalists’ appointments and declined to deliver the commissions; therefore, compelling Marbury to file a case with the Supreme Court. Marbury demanded that Madison be forced to acknowledge the appointment and deliver the commission in compliance with the Judiciary Act of 1789, which permitted the court to issue a writ of mandamus to public officers and private persons.
Chief Justice John Marshall presided over the dispute and established the principle of judicial review that significantly increases the influence of judicial power. In deciding this case, Marshall encountered a considerable dilemma. If Marshall was to grant the writ of mandamus requested by Marbury under the Judiciary Act of 1789 then it is assumed that Madison would simply refuse to abide by the ruling. Madison’s disobedience would weaken judicial power by rendering the courts judgment powerless and easily defied.
On the other hand, if Marshall does not grant the writ then he would once again be sacrificing judicial power by demonstrating the courts reluctance to take action against the Republicans’ transgression. Marshall skillfully fabricated an undisputable solution to this dilemma. He agreed with Marbury on his right to the commission, however declared that he has no power to issue the writ of mandamus. In siding with Marbury, Marshall implied that Madison was wrong in refusing to deliver the commission, which ultimately punished the Republicans.
By stating that the Supreme Court lacks the authority given to it by the Judiciary Act implies that the legislation is unconstitutional. No where in the constitution is the Supreme Court assigned such powers; therefore, the Judiciary Act passed by Congress is invalid. This strict interpretation of the Constitution limits the power of the court by restricting its authority to issue a writ of mandamus, but at the same time and more importantly it increases the courts jurisdiction by establishing its ability to declare acts of both Congress and the executive branch as unconstitutional, which is the power of judicial review.
In his opinion for Marbury v. Madison, Marshall emphasizes the supremacy of the Constitution over congressional legislation. He stated that, “the powers of the legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken or forgotten, the Constitution is written” (Woll, 414). The Constitution is the written foundation of the federal government and enumerates the specific powers of Congress. By arbitrarily disregarding these imposed limits, the legislative branch is undermining the central government by mocking the principles of the Constitution.
Enumerate powers are enforced to protect the rights of the public from an authoritarian government; therefore, transgression of these boundaries is a threat to individual liberty. It is the duty of the judicial branch to declare that “an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void” (Woll, 415). The Constitution is the written document that establishes the congressional institution therefore it must be supreme when in confliction with legislative laws. In Marbury v.
Madison “the court must either decide that case conformably to the law, disregarding the Constitution, or conformably to the Constitution, disregarding the law” (Woll, 415). By granting the writ authorized by the Judiciary Act, Marshall is defying congressional legislation; however, he is maintaining the doctrine of the Constitution, which is superior. Hamilton conceived the judicial branch as the weakest of the three governmental branches; however, it is an indispensable contributor to the system of checks and balances.
The executive and legislative branches check the judicial branch through the President’s power to appoint justices and Congress’ power to establish lower courts. The judicial branch checks both the executive and legislative branches through judicial review, which was established by Marshall in the case of Marbury v. Madison. Hamilton also emphasized the significance of judicial independence from political influence of the two stronger branches of government in order to preserve separation of powers.
This requisite independence of the judicial branch is achieved through life tenure for justices, which prevents them from being susceptible to political pressures. Article III of the Constitution pertaining to the Judiciary is very inexplicit regarding the powers of judicial branch; however, the uncontested establishment of judicial review has significantly strengthen its authority and it is undeniably an influential branch within the governmental system today.