Marbury v. Madison: Facts of the Case

2012-09-12 08:32:46 by admin

Marbury v. Madison

Marbury v. Madison: The Court’s Ruling

The facts in Marbury reflect the politics of the day. Thomas Jefferson was elected as the third U.S. president, defeating John Adams in the election of 1800, which was ultimately resolved on February 17, 1801. After losing the election, but before leaving office, President Adams determined to fill a number of judicial vacancies created by the Judiciary Act of 1801 with members of his own Federalist Party. The appointments were made on March 2, 1801, just two days before the expiration of his term, and were approved by the Senate on the next day; and Adams signed the commissions. However, in order for the appointments to be effective, the commissions had to be delivered to those who were appointed. This task was delegated to John Marshall, acting secretary of state and soon to be chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Despite his best efforts, Mr. Marshall was unable to deliver a number of the judicial commissions prior to President Adams’s leaving office. When President Jefferson took office on March 4, 1801, he directed his new secretary of state, James Madison, not to deliver the remaining commissions for President Adams’s “eleventh hour” appointments. Jefferson believed that the commissions, not having been delivered prior to the expiration of President Adams’s term, were void.

William Marbury was one of Adams’s “midnight appointees” to a newly created justice of the peace position in the District of Columbia. When his commission was not delivered, Marbury sued James Madison. Marbury, taking advantage of a provision in Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, began an original action in the Supreme Court seeking an order to show cause why a writ of mandamus should not issue. In essence, Marbury was asking the Supreme Court to order the secretary of state to deliver his commission.

Marbury’s action raised the issue of whether the Supreme Court had the jurisdiction, or the power, to hear and resolve his case. The U.S. Constitution defines the jurisdiction of the Court in Article III, Section 2, Clause 2:

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be a Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned [within the judicial power of the United States], the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

The Judiciary Act of 1789, and in particular Section 13 of the act, on which Mr. Marbury relied in bringing his action, addressed the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as follows:

The Supreme Court shall also have appellate jurisdiction from the circuit courts and courts of the several states, in the cases herein after provided for; and shall have power to issue writs of prohibition to the district courts . . . and writs of mandamus . . . to any courts appointed, or persons holding office, under the authority of the United States.

The constitutional issue in Marbury was whether Congress had the authority to expand the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction. Insofar as Marbury filed his petition for a writ of mandamus directly in the Supreme Court, the justices needed to be able to exercise original jurisdiction over the dispute in order to have the power to hear the case. Marbury argued that Congress granted the Court original jurisdiction over petitions for writ of mandamus by enacting the Judiciary Act of 1789.

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