2 Jan 2023


Marbury v. Madison: The Case That Made the Supreme Court Supreme

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There are a few court cases that lead to a different course in court activities and even politics. One of such cases is the Marbury versus Madison case. The case started in March 1801 and was heard by the Supreme Court in the United Stated of America. This paper provides a summary of facts about the case and the implications it had regarding the powers of the judicial branch. The case greatly verified the need for accountability of powers within the government by using balances and checks specifically in the review of the judiciary.

Summary of Facts 

The case finds its name from the key players in the case. Marbury was a man appointed by the then president Adams as the Justice of the Peace for Washington County, which is found in Colombia. Madison, on the other hand, was the Secretary of State who had been appointed after Jefferson took office. Madison refused to deliver the Marbury’s commission prompting the case. Marshall was the Chief Justice, who ruled on the case (Tuomala, 2009). Adam created positions for judges within the executive branch of the government and appointed loyal federalists to the positions a few days before Jefferson took power. Jefferson being a democratic republican was frustrated by the “packing” of the judiciary. Adam ensured the letters to the judges were not delivered thus making the appointments unofficial. Jefferson ordered that any letter not delivered after his inauguration would be rendered void. Marbury’s commission was among the 17 that were yet to be delivered (Ray, 2016).

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Marbury in response issued a writ of mandamus to compel the delivery of the commissions. The case was forwarded to the Supreme Court and was finally heard in 1803. John Marshall, the Chief Justice, ruled that Jefferson via Madison were wrong to prevent Marbury from receiving his commission and taking his appointed office. He also ruled that despite that, the court had no jurisdiction in the case and had no authority to compel Jefferson’s side to allow Marbury to take office. Marshall also cited that the Supreme Court had been given jurisdiction in the Judiciary Act of 1789 but ruled the Act as unconstitutional. This was because it extended the powers of the judiciary into the executive. Marshall argued that acts of the Congress that were conflicting with the constitution were not laws and were thus not binding to the court. The Judiciary’s first priority would henceforth to uphold the constitution. The court bears the responsibility to decide which law applies in the case of conflict. Marbury’s appointment was thus withheld (Ray, 2016).

Implications Regarding the Powers of the Judicial Branch 

Before the Marbury vs. Madison case, the Supreme was the weakest of the three governmental branches because the constitution never explicitly states that the court had the jurisdiction to determine the constitutionality of laws (Tuomala, 2009). The concept of judicial review would not have become what it is today were it not for Marshall Interpretation of the constitution. The immediate effect of the ruling was to deny the Court power. However, in the long term, it has increased the power of the court since it determined that it was the judiciary’s role to determine what was the Law is and what it is not (Ray, 2016). Since the ruling on the case in 1803, the Supreme Court has retained the powers as the final arbitrator of whether congressional legislations are constitutional. The increased powers of the court make it keep checks and balance within the executive and legislature branches of the government.


In conclusion, the outcome of the Marbury vs. Madison case was a lot bigger than the individuals that were involved in it. The ruling set a precedent for judicial review making the court responsible for declaring a law unconstitutional. It also created the foundation of the national government as the final authority in the determination of constitutional meaning. This reinforced William Marshall’s belief that the central government was stronger that the states.


Ray, C. (2016). John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison, and the Construction of Constitutional Legitimacy. Law, Culture and the Humanities , 1743872116650867.

Tuomala, J. C. (2009). Marbury v. Madison and the Foundation of Law. Liberty UL Rev. , 4, 297.

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