February 24, 1803

The landmark case of Marbury v. Madison (1803) established the practice of judicial review. William Marbury, to whom President Adams had given a judicial appointment near the end of his term, sued to have the Jefferson administration deliver the commission. Marshall wrote the unanimous opinion finding that, while Marbury was entitled to his commission, the Court could not deliver it because the section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 permitting the Court to issue writs was inconsistent with the Constitution. Thus the Supreme Court claimed the authority to determine the constitutionality of state and federal laws. Marshall thereby ingeniously expanded the Court’s power without directly provoking the Jeffersonians. A landmark in American constitutional history, the decision asserted the power of federal courts to review the constitutionality of federal laws and to invalidate acts of Congress when they are found to conflict with the Constitution. This power, known as judicial review, provides the basis for the important place that the Supreme Court occupies in American life today.

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