Part One: Background Information
- Read the background information
- Answer the questions
Thomas Jefferson, a member of the Republican Party, won the election of 1800. Before Jefferson took office, John Adams, the outgoing President who was a Federalist, quickly appointed 58 members of his own party to fill government jobs created by Congress. He did this because he wanted people from his political party in office.
It was the responsibility of Adams’ Secretary of State, John Marshall, to finish the paperwork and give it to each of the newly appointed officials. Although Marshall signed and sealed all of the papers, he failed to deliver 17 of them to the appointees. Marshall thought his successor, or the next person in his position, would finish the job. But when Jefferson became President, he told his new Secretary of State, James Madison, not to deliver some of the papers. Those individuals couldn’t take office until they actually had their papers in hand.
Adams had appointed William Marbury to be Justice of the Peace of the District of Columbia. Marbury was one of the last-minute appointees who did not receive his papers. He sued Jeffersons’ Secretary of State, James Madison, and asked the Supreme Court of the United States to issue a court order requiring that Madison deliver his papers.
Marbury argued that he was entitled to the job and that the Judiciary Act of 1789 gave the Supreme Court of the United States original jurisdiction or authority to issue an order he needed to take office. When the case came before the Court, John Marshall — the person who had failed to deliver the order in the first place — was the new Chief Justice. The Court had to decide whether Marbury was entitled to his job, and if so, whether the Judiciary Act of 1789 gave the Court the authority, or jurisdiction, it needed to force the Secretary of State to appoint Marbury to his position. If the answer to the second question was no, Marbury needed to go plead his case to another part of the government to get his job.
Questions for Part One (Complete these on notebook paper. Title your section “Part One”):
- Why did John Adams appoint so many people at the end of his term?
- Why couldn’t the last minute appointees take office?
- What position wasMarburyappointed to?
- What didMarbury’s argue (note: it includes two things!)?
- What two questions did the court have to decide?
- Do you thinkMarburywas right, that he should be allowed to take office? Why or why not?
Part Two: The Decision Itself
- Read information on the decision itself
- Answer the questions
There were three questions that the case was supposed to answer. The first question was, “Is Marbury entitled to his appointment?” The justices said the answer was yes. The second question was “Is his lawsuit the correct way to get it?” The justices also said yes to this question. The final question was, “Is the Supreme Court the place for Marbury to get the relief he requests?” The justices were more unsure about this question and said that it depends on the situation. The justices held, through Marshall’s forceful argument, that on the last issue the Constitution was “the fundamental and paramount law of the nation” and that “an act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void.” In other words, when the Constitution–the nation’s highest law–conflicts with an act of the legislature, that act is invalid. This case establishes the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review.
Questions for Part Two (Complete these on notebook paper. Title your section “Part Two”):
- What were the three questions that the case was supposed to answer?
- What were the answers to the three questions?
- What did the justices say was the highest or most important law in the land? If an act of
Congress goes against that law, what happens to the law?
Part Three: The Impact of the Decision
- Read the about the impact of the decision
- Answer the questions
Marbury v. Madison was considered a landmark case in United States law. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. Marbury v. Madison was the first time the Supreme Court declared something another branch of government did was “unconstitutional”, and established the concept of judicial review in the U.S. (the idea that courts are supposed to oversee and nullify the actions of another branch of government). The landmark decision helped define the “checks and balances” of the American form of government and what the role of the judicial branch is in a checks and balances system.
Questions for Part Three (Complete these on notebook paper. Title your section “Part Three”):
- What is judicial review?
- How didMarburyv. Madison help establish judicial review in the United States?
- What is the connection between judicial review and checks and balances?