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Case Digest on Marbury v. Madison

Judges can determine whether or not federal laws are constitutional; and federal laws that are in conflict with the U.S. Constitution are invalid.

These are the two important legal doctrines established by the U.S. landmark case on Marbury v. Madison in 1803.

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John Adams, outgoing U.S. President at that time, appointed a number of justices of peace at the district of Columbia including William Marbury. The notice of motion to deliver the signed commissions had been given to James Madison, secretary of state of the United States, but to no avail. Hence, Marbury sought legal recourse.


  1. Whether Marbury had the right to receive his commission as justice of the peace; and
  2. Whether the U.S. Supreme Court had the authority to order Madison to deliver the commission


As to the first issue of the case, the Court held that Marbury did indeed have a legal right to receive his commission as a justice of the peace, as his appointment was valid and had been signed and sealed by the outgoing President.

However, as to the second issue of the case, the Court ruled that it did not have the authority to compel Madison to deliver the commission, as the relevant law that would have granted such authority (the Judiciary Act of 1789) was unconstitutional.

In this case, Chief Justice Marshall established the principle of judicial review, which means that the Supreme Court has the authority to review the constitutionality of laws and executive actions. Marshall argued that the Judiciary Act of 1789, which granted the Court the power to issue writs of mandamus in cases like Marbury's, was in conflict with the Constitution. He argued that the Constitution was the supreme law of the land, and any law that contradicted it could not stand.

As a result, the Court concluded that the portion of the Judiciary Act of 1789 giving it the power to issue the writ of mandamus was unconstitutional. Therefore, Marbury's request for a writ of mandamus was denied.


The ruling in Marbury v. Madison solidified the judiciary's role in interpreting the Constitution and checking the constitutionality of legislative and executive actions.

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