Marbury V. Madison

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Marbury v. Madison
5 U.S. 137 (1803)

On his last day in office, President John Adams named forty-two justices of the peace and sixteen new circuit court justices for the District of Columbia under the Organic Act. The Organic Act was an attempt by the Federalists to take control of the federal judiciary before Thomas Jefferson took office.

The commissions were signed by President Adams and sealed by acting Secretary of State John Marshall (who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and author of this opinion), but they were not delivered before the expiration of Adams’s term as president. Thomas Jefferson refused to honor the commissions, claiming that they were invalid because they had not been delivered by the end of Adams’s term.

William Marbury was an intended recipient of an appointment as justice of the peace. Marbury applied directly to the Supreme Court of the United States for a writ of mandamus to compel Jefferson’s Secretary of State, James Madison (D), to deliver the commissions. The Judiciary Act of 1783 had granted the Supreme Court original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus “…to any courts appointed, or persons holding office, under the authority of the United States.”

1. Is Marbury entitled to his appointment?
2. If he has a right to that appointment, is a lawsuit the correct way for him to get it? 3. Does the Supreme Court have the authority to review acts of Congress and determine whether they are unconstitutional and therefore void? 4. Does the Supreme Court have original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus?

1. Yes. Marbury has a right to the commission.

The order granting the commission takes effect when the Executive’s constitutional power of appointment has been exercised, and the power has been exercised when the last act required from the person possessing the power has been performed. The grant of the commission to Marbury became...
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