Supreme Court Ruling of Marbury v. Madison

Subject: Law
Pages: 3
Words: 886
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Study level: College


Despite being often used interchangeably, civil rights and civil liberties differ. Civil rights serve as legal protection against discrimination, while civil liberties are stated by Constitution to ensure fundamental human freedoms, for example, freedom of speech (Domino, 2018). In order to uphold these pillars of today’s society, the legal system in the U.S. employs the U.S. Supreme Court, which is critical since its decisions influence future court rulings.

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Case Summary

Marbury v. Madison is a court case that took root in politics. In January of 1801, the second president of the United States, John Adams, had to find a new Chief Justice for the U.S. Supreme Court. In addition to Chief Justice, John Adams hastened to appoint as many people in positions of power as possible since his time of rule came to an end (Nelson, 2018). His choice for Chief Justice was Secretary of State John Marshall, who, in a hurry that was surrounding this ordeal, could not finalize all of the assignments made by the former president. William Marbury was one of the people whose position was not validated despite the appointment before the new president, Thomas Jefferson, was inaugurated.

After his inauguration, Thomas Jefferson decided to withhold the commissions made by his political enemy. This enticed William Marbury to bring this case on his behalf and behalf of other uncommissioned appointees directly to the Supreme Court, demanding a writ of mandamus. In turn, the Supreme Court ruled that while the obstruction of the commission violated Marbury’s rights, the surrender of this commission would not be constitutional. This decision established the judicial review, a way for the federal judiciary to examine the actions of other government branches in accordance with the Constitution.

Case Outline

Title: Supreme Court of the United States: Marbury v. Madison

Facts of the case:

  • John Adams used the Judiciary Act of 1801 to appoint new judges and justices of the peace, including William Marbury.
  • The appointment of the judges and justices would not be considered valid without commissions delivered by the Secretary of State.
  • William Marbury petitioned the Supreme Court to compel James Madison as the Secretary of State to deliver his commission.

History of the case:

  • Chief Justice John Marshall stated that the Supreme Court did not have the right to issue a writ of mandamus to compel Madison to deliver the commission.
  • Marshall also determined that the Judiciary Act of 1789, the law according to which Marbury was trying to receive the mandamus, violated the U.S. Constitution.
  • As a result, the decision led to the establishment of the judicial review, which granted the Supreme Court the main role in constitutional interpretation.

Legal questions:

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  • The main legal question in the case was to establish whether the plaintiff had the right to seek their commission.
  • Additionally, the Chief Justice had to decide whether the plaintiff could legally sue for their commission in Court.
  • The final question concerned the idea of the Supreme Court having the authority to compel the defendant to deliver the commission.

Decision or holdings:

  • Chief Justice Marshall realized that issuing a writ of mandamus would not make it obligatory for Madison to deliver the document to Marbury.
  • Yet, by ruling that the provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which allowed the Court to issue a writ, was unconstitutional, the Chief Justice removed the need to issue the writ.
  • Thus, the Court decided in favor of the defendant while establishing the power of judicial review.

Verdict and opinion (judgment):

  • All four judges had a unanimous decision in favor of the defendant. Therefore, there were no concurring or dissenting opinions.
  • Thus, the final verdict of the Court was that it could not compel the defendant to deliver the commission since the law establishing such authority was unconstitutional.

Marbury v. Madison

Given the fact that William Marbury went directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, this case had not been under consideration of the local state laws. Therefore, legal action was taken not based on the laws of the District of Columbia. Although had Marbury brought this case to the D.C. Circuit Court, he most likely would have had fortunate results (Leo, 2020). Marbury’s decision could be explained by the fact that he was probably hoping to be favored by John Marshall, the Supreme Court Chief Justice.

The Court had to determine whether Marbury had the right to the commissions, whether the federal law could mend the situation, and whether the U.S. Supreme Court had the authority to intervene. It was a difficult decision for Marshall since Jefferson could potentially refuse to follow the ruling, which would diminish the Supreme Court’s power. Yet, if Jefferson’s Administration prevailed, it would seem as though the Court conceded under political pressure. Marshall realized that allowing the Supreme Court to deliver the commission would be unconstitutional; therefore, the Supreme Court decided that it had no constitutional right to force the defendant.


In conclusion, the ruling in the case of Marbury v. Madison was an immensely influential act, and people across the nation benefited and felt the impact of it. It established the efficiency of judicial review – the ability of courts to examine and study the actions of governmental branches to see if they align with the Constitution. In addition, it proved the Supreme Court and lower federal courts’ power and competence.


Domino, J. C. (2018). Civil rights and liberties in the 21st century. Routledge.

Leo, S. A. (2020). Refilling the reservoir: How the Supreme Court has responded to challenges to its legitimacy. Political Science Honors Projects. 84. Web.

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Nelson, W. E. (2018). Marbury v. Madison: The origins and legacy of judicial review. University Press of Kansas.