Marbury v. Madison

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Marbury v. Madison
Court U.S. Supreme Court
Citation 5 US 137 (1803)
Date decided February 24, 1803


Marbury and others were appointed justices of the peace for DC by President Adams and confirmed by the Senate on Adams' last day in office. Their formal commissions were signed but not delivered. Madison, as Secretary of State, was directed by the new President Jefferson to withhold Marbury's commission. Marbury brought a writ of mandamus directly to the Supreme Court under the Judiciary Act of 1789, which established U.S. courts and authorized the Supreme Court to issue writs of mandamus to public officers.

John Marshall was the Secretary of State of John Adams in 1800 & 1801 before being appointed as the 4th Chief Justice of SCOTUS. For 1 month in 1801, he held both posts simultaneously.


Is the Supreme Court empowered to review acts of Congress and void those that it finds to be repugnant to the Constitution?


Yes. Marbury's action is discharged because the Court does not have original jurisdiction; the Judiciary Act is unconstitutional.[1]

Congress may not authorize SCOTUS to issue writs of mandamus under the Judiciary Act of 1789.


In the opinion of John Marshall, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was in conflict with Article III of the US Constitution.


  • The facts demonstrate a plain case for mandamus action, and under the Judiciary Act this Court could so act.
  • Marbury claims that since the constitutional grant of jurisdiction is general and the clause assigning original jurisdiction to the Supreme Court in Article 3, §2, contains no negative or restrictive words, the legislature may assign original jurisdiction to this Court in addition to that specified in the Constitution. But the clause specifies in what cases this Court is to have original jurisdiction, and that in all other cases its jurisdiction is appellate. Marbury's contention would render the clause ineffectual, an impermissible construction. Therefore, the Judiciary Act's grant of original mandamus jurisdiction is unconstitutional and void.
  • The grant of judicial power extends to all cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the US. Since the Constitution is superior to any ordinary legislative act, it must govern a case to which both apply.
  • The Supremacy Clause in Article 6, §2, declares that the Constitution and those acts of Congress made in pursuance thereof shall be the supreme law of the land. Thus, the Court must determine when such acts are actually made in pursuance of the Constitution. The power of judicial review is implicit in the Constitution.