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Marbury v. Madison

Citation. Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 2 L.Ed. 60 (1803).

Brief Fact Summary.

William Marbury was appointed justice of the peace in 1801.  His commission was never delivered and remained in James Madison’s office as Thomas Jefferson and his administration took over.  President Jefferson directed Madison to withhold the commission. Marbury sued, invoking the Court’s original jurisdiction seeking a writ of mandamus.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Marbury v. Madison, in invalidating the Judiciary Act of 1789, established judicial review:  “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”

Facts.

William Marbury was appointed justice of the peace in the District of Columbia and was confirmed by the Senate in March 1801.  His commission, however, went undelivered and remained in James Madison’s office as Thomas Jefferson and his administration took over.  President Jefferson directed his Secretary of State, James Madison, to withhold the commission.  Marbury sued, invoking the Court’s original jurisdiction seeking a writ of mandamus.

Issue.

(1) First, did Marbury have a right to the Commission?

(2) Second, if he had a right that was violated, did he have a remedy?

(3) Third, was a writ of mandamus available under the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction?

Held.

CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion.

(1) Yes, Marbury had a right to the commission.  The commission was signed by then President John Adams, and Article 2 of the Constitution declares that “the president shall . . . appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and all other officers of the United States . . . .”  Further, the President “shall commission all the officers of the United States.”  Therefore, withholding the commission violated Marbury’s right to it.

(2) Yes, a mandamus would be a proper remedy because withholding the commission involved Marbury’s right as an individual and did not encroach on political questions, which are only politically examinable and cannot be redressed by a court.

(3) No, the Court did not have jurisdiction to grant the remedy.  The Supreme Court has “original jurisdiction in all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be a party. In all other cases, the supreme court shall have appellate jurisdiction.”  Art. 3. Sec. II Cl. 2.  The Judiciary Act of 1789 sought to grant the Supreme Court original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus, but this violated the Constitution.  Because none of the constitutionally outlined criteria for original jurisdiction applied, the Court could only issue a writ of mandamus under its appellate jurisdiction.  The Judiciary Act of 1789 was void because “a legislative act contrary to the constitution is not law,” and the Act would have extended the Court’s jurisdiction beyond what was constitutionally prescribed.  In weighing conflicting laws, courts must interpret which one takes precedence.  “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”  Because the Constitution is superior to any act of Congress, the Judiciary Act could not alter it.


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