Supreme Court Cases

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eeMarbury v. Madison: 5 U.S. 137, 1 Cranch 137, 2 L. Ed. 60 (1803)

Facts: Before the inauguration of President Jefferson, outgoing President Adams attempted to secure Federalist control of the judiciary by creating new judgeships and filling them with Federalist appointees. Included in these efforts was the nomination by President Adams, under the Organic Act of the District of Columbia (the District), of 42 new justices of the peace for the District, which were confirmed by the Senate the day before President Jefferson’s inauguration. A few of the commissions, including Marbury’s, were undelivered when President Jefferson took office. The new president instructed Secretary of State James Madison to withhold delivery of the commissions. Marbury sought mandamus in the Supreme Court, requiring James Madison to deliver his commission.

Issue. Is Marbury entitled to mandamus from the Supreme Court?

Held. No. Case dismissed for want of jurisdiction.
As the President signed Marbury’s commission after his confirmation, the appointment has been made, and Marbury has a right to the commission Given that the law imposed a duty on the office of the president to deliver Marbury’s commission, that the Supreme Court has the power to review executive actions when the executive acts as an officer of the law and the nature of the writ of mandamus to direct an officer of the government “to do a particular thing therein specified,” mandamus is the appropriate remedy, if available to the Supreme Court. To issue mandamus to the Secretary of State really is to sustain an original action, which is (in this case) outside the constitutional limits of jurisdiction imposed on the Supreme Court.

Discussion. The importance of Marbury v. Madison is both political and legal. Although the case establishes the traditions of judicial review and a litigable constitution on which the remainder of constitutional law rests, it also transformed the Supreme Court from an incongruous institution to an equipotent head of a branch of the federal government.

McCulloch v. Maryland: 17 U.S. 316, 4 Wheat. 316, 4 L. Ed. 579 (1819)

Facts. Congress chartered the Second Bank of the United States. Branches were established in many states, including one in Baltimore, Maryland. In response, the Maryland legislature adopted an Act imposing a tax on all banks in the state not chartered by the state legislature. James McCulloch, a cashier for the Baltimore branch of the United States Bank, was sued for violating this Act. McCulloch admitted he was not complying with the Maryland law. McCulloch lost in the Baltimore County Court and that court’s decision was affirmed by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The case was then taken by writ of error to the United States Supreme Court (Supreme Court).

Issue. Does Congress have the authority to establish a Bank of the United States under the Constitution? Held. Yes. Judgment reversed.
Counsel for the state of Maryland claimed that because the Constitution was enacted by the independent states, it should be exercised in subordination to the states. However, the states ratified the Constitution by a two-thirds vote of their citizens, not by a decision of the state legislature. Therefore, although limited in its powers, the Constitution is supreme over the laws of the states. There is no enumerated power within the Constitution allowing for the creation of a bank. But, Congress is granted the power of making “all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.” The Supreme Court determines through Constitutional construction that “necessary” is not a limitation, but rather applies to any means with a legitimate end within the scope of the Constitution. Because the Constitution is supreme over state laws, the states cannot apply taxes, which would in effect destroy federal legislative law. Therefore, Maryland’s state tax on the United States Bank is unconstitutional.

Discussion....
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