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Case NumberEdit

  • Full Case Name: William Marbury v. James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States
  • Oral Argument: Thursday, February 10, 1803
  • Decision: Wednesday, February 23, 1803

Facts of the CaseEdit

The case began on March 2, 1801, when an obscure Federalist, William Marbury, was designated as a justice of the peace in the District of Columbia. Marbury and several others were appointed to government posts created by Congress in the last days of John Adams's presidency, but these last-minute appointments were never fully finalized. The disgruntled appointees invoked an act of Congress and sued for their jobs in the Supreme Court.

Question Posed to the CourtEdit

Is Marbury entitled to his appointment? Is his lawsuit the correct way to get it? And, is the Supreme Court the place for Marbury to get the relief he requests?

Final Court RulingEdit

Yes; and it depends. The justices held, through Marshall's forceful argument, that on the last issue the Constitution was "the fundamental and paramount law of the nation" and that "an act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void." In other words, when the Constitution--the nation's highest law--conflicts with an act of the legislature, that act is invalid. This case establishes the Supreme Court's power of judicial review.

The power of judicial review means that the U.S. Supreme court is the final arbiter of laws that are passed by Congress and signed by the President, in terms of whether that law can be allowed to "stand" or be enforced. The constitution isn't explicit on the Supreme Court having that power. Until Marbury, the subject of whether something was or wasn't "constitutional" was a non-issue.

That case and -- more importantly -- its acceptance by the general public at the time helped bring about the entire system that we now have to determine the constitutionality of laws.