Marbury v. Madison
1 Cranch 137 (1803)
Procedural History: None. Plaintiff filed suit for a “Writ of Mandamus” in order to compel President Jefferson’s Secretary of State (James Madison) to deliver remaining commissions. According to the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Supreme Court had original jurisdiction over the matter.
Facts: This case evolved out of the contentious political fight between the Federalists and the Republicans at the turn of the 19th Century. President John Adams and his fellow Federalists suffered a crushing political defeat to Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans in which they lost both the Presidency and control of Congress. Immediately prior to leaving office, President Adams appointed a number of new judges, including many new justices of the peace for the District of Columbia. One such appointment was promised to William Marbury. These new appointments were signed by President Adams but were not delivered by the time he left office.
Incoming President Jefferson subsequently refused to deliver, or honor, the appointments. P, along with other would be justices of the peace, brought suit directly in the Supreme Court seeking a “Writ of Mandamus.”
Issues: Did P have a right to his commission?
If so, did the law provide P with a remedy?
If P is allowed a remedy under the law, can this court issue a writ of mandamus originally?
Holding: Yes. Yes. No.
Reasoning: Chief Justice Marshall first declared that P was entitled to his commission since they were already signed by President Adams, effectively bypassing issue of non-delivery. Because P had a right under the law to his commission, the law had to offer the Plaintiff a remedy for a legal right is not a right without a legal remedy. In discussing the Plaintiff’s remedy under the law, Chief Justice Marshall also made the distinction between “political acts” and “acts required by law”, with courts having the specific ability to review the latter.
Since the court did find a remedy under the law for the Plaintiff, it then turned its attention to whether it had the ability to issue a “Writ of Mandamus” in order to fulfill the Plaintiff’s right under the law. While the Judiciary Act of 1789 gave the Supreme Court jurisdiction to issue “Writs of Mandamus” to persons holding office, the court concluded that this specific law was in direct conflict with the Constitution (specifically Article III, § 2).
The Constitution specifically gave the Supreme Court original jurisdiction ONLY in cases involving states, ambassadors, and other public ministers. Therefore, since the Constitution does not give the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over issuing “Writs of Mandamus”, the law is in conflict with the Constitution and must be held to be unconstitutional as the Constitution itself is the “supreme law of the land.”
Law: The Constitution is the fundamental law of the land and therefore if the Supreme Court finds that a constitutional provision conflicts with a congressional statute, the Court has the duty to declare the statute to be unconstitutional and void.
It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each.