Marbury v. Madison

5 U.S. (1 Branch) 137 (1803).


There are three main questions with a subquestion under the third:

  1. Does the applicant have a right to the commission?
  2. Do the laws of this country afford a remedy?
  3. If so, is that remedy a mandamus issuing from this court?
    • Is the law from Congress saying that this court could issue a mandamus Constitutional?

There are a few rules mentioned but the one of significance is the Constitutional Rule:

  • A writ of mandamus must be issued through appeal, not by the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

The law saying that the Supreme Court had the authority to issue a writ of mandamus through original jurisdiction is Unconstitutional.


At the end of John Adam’s presidential administration, he appointed several individuals to be judges. These appointments were confirmed by the senate before the end of his term. Marbury was one of these individuals. However, Marbury was never formally commissioned before Thomas Jefferson took office. He sought his formal commission but Jefferson refused to provide it. As a result, Marbury went to the court to compel Madison (Jefferson’s Secretary of State) to deliver the commission.


Yes, Marbury is entitled to his commission. Yes, there is a remedy in the law for him to obtain that commission (through writ of mandamus). However, he made the mistake of going directly to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court did not have the authority to provide him the writ. Why?

There was a law passed by Congress that gave the Supreme Court that authority. However, the Constitution states what the authority of the Supreme Court is (through appellate, not original jurisdiction). Thus, we see a conflict in the law. Which law stands, the Constitution or a legislative statute? The court says that the Constitution stands, and that the judicial power has the authority to interpret the Constitution to determine which laws violate the Constitution. If those laws violate the Constitution, then it is the duty of the court to declare those laws unconstitutional.

The reason why this is a power invested in the court is because the court naturally hears cases on the Constitutionality of laws. The court is in a position to rule on those laws. Additionally, the court is sworn to protect the Constitution. If the court values the laws more than the Constitution, then there would have been no point to a Constitution.


Thus, we have judicial review. The courts have the power to hear cases and determine if those statutes are in keeping with the U.S. Constitution.

In this case, the statute did not fall in line and was deemed unconstitutional. Marbury would need to obtain his writ through the appellate method.

Additional Notes

Yes, there were political battles back then too. Marbury’s commission was created, signed, and sealed, but not delivered.

There were three questions asked

  • Did you have a right?
  • If so, what is the desired remedy?
  • Can you win with that remedy?

Marbury did have the right to his commission. His desired a writ of mandamus. This is a valid remedy’s but he can’t win in this court. Why? Because the statute went against the Constitution. The Constitution did not have a writ of mandamus written in Article III.


  • The court gets to interpret what the Constitution means.
  • The other branches of government also need to follow the Supreme Court’s interpretation.

There are several reasons that Justice Marshall listed when explaining why these takeaways are true.

  • The Constitution was written down. If the Constitution is written down, then the people want to preserve it.
  • The court has a natural role of hearing these cases.
  • Because the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land, the judicial branch should strive to preserve it.
  • Marshall argues that the Constitution granted jurisdiction to handle these cases.
  • Finally, Justices have taken an oath to protect the Constitution.

Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee

14 U.S. (1 Wheat.) 304 (1816).

Martin is the defendant. He won in trial court then lost in appeal. On appeal to the Supreme Court, he won. However, the Virginia court refused to enter judgment for Martin, claiming the judicial act unconstitutional. This case is back at the Supreme Court to address the issue.


Does the Supreme Court have appellate jurisdiction over Constitutional issues from state courts?


The appellate power of the United States extends to cases that are in the State system. In other words, Federal courts still have authority over State courts.


This is a land dispute, trying to figure out who has claim to the land. Hunter claims it through a grant from Virginia. However, Martin, a British subject, was living on the land and claimed that the attempt to confiscate the land was ineffective because of anti-confiscation clauses in treaties between the United States and England.


Everything in the Constitution was designed to create and limit the power of the Federal government. However, it was also designed to create and limit the power of State governments. If the state legislatures are bound by federal laws, then it also makes sense that state courts are bound by federal courts.

One thing I throughly enjoyed from this section was the quote: “It is the case, then and not the court that gives the jurisdiction.” In other words, no matter where the case comes from, federal or state, the Supreme Court has the option to hear that case through appellate powers.

Additional Notes

This case was a federal issue that was raised in a state court. After Virginia had made a decision and it was appealed and reversed. Virginia refused to implicate the ruling. So, it was appealed again to determine if the Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over the state courts. The answer is yes. Why?

First, the federal judicial power extends to all cases. Second, Article VI has a supremacy clause which says that federal laws are superior to state courts. Third, split decisions can be resolved across jurisdictions (regarding to federal issues). Fourth, to remove state bias of federal issues.

So, how far does judicial review extend? There is a case called Cooper v. Aaron. After Brown v. Board, Arkansas said that the rule did not apply to them because they were not a party in the case. However, the court says that even though a state was not the party to a case in another case, that state is still bound to Constitutional rulings. This is a large expansion of judicial review.

Scholars are split on this decision, saying that the language “goes too far.” That the court oversteps its boundary by creating legislation.


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Will Laursen

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