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Marbury Vs. Madison, Analysis

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In Marbury v. Madison, the U.S Supreme Court asserted its power to review acts of Congress and invalidate those that conflict with the Constitution.

At the end of his term in office, President John Adams appointed a number of Federalist Party members to administration and judiciary positions. Although President Adams attempted to fill the vacancies prior to the end of his term, he had not delivered a number of commissions. In particular William Marbury was never confirmed. When Jefferson became President, he refused to honor the last-minute appointments of President John Adams. William Marbury, one of those appointees, sued James Madison, the new Secretary of State, and asked the Supreme Court to order the delivery of his commission as a justice of the peace.

John Marshall, the chief justice, understood that if the Supreme Court issued an order to force Madison to deliver the commission, the Jefferson administration would ignore it, and therefore significantly weaken the authority of the courts. On the other hand, if the Court denied the writ, it might appear that the justices acted out of fear. Either case would be a denial of the basic principle of the supremacy of the law. Instead, Marshall found a common ground where the Court could chastise the Jeffersonians for their actions while enhancing the Supreme Court's power.

In Marbury v. Madison (1803) the Supreme Court announced for the first time the principle that a court may declare an act of Congress void if it is inconsistent with the Constitution. Chief Justice John Marshall, writing for a unanimous Court, denied the petition and refused to issue the writ. Although he found that the petitioners were entitled to their commissions, he held that the Constitution did not give the Supreme Court the power to issue writs of mandamus. Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 provided that such writs might be issued, but that section of the act was inconsistent with the Constitution



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