Details of Case: John Adams issued William Marbury a commission as justice of peace but the Sectary of State, James Madison refused to deliver it. Marbury sued to obtain it. Supreme Court Chief Justice Marshall established the principle of Judicial review. John Marshall said Madison’s refusal to deliver the commission was “illegal and remediable”. The court stopped compelling Madison to give Marbury his commission but instead upheld their interpretation of something called the Judiciary Act of 1789.
The Judiciary Act of 1789 was a landmark law enacted on September 24th, 1789, in the first session of the First United States Congress. This law established the Supreme Court and outlined its powers in more detail than the Constitution. Chief Justice Marshall and his court interpreted this law as a source of authority for judicial review. I think of it as a way to make the Supreme Court as the final umpire in the actions of government.
Court’s Decision: William Marbury had the right to his commission but did not have the power to force James Madison to deliver the commission.
Historical Importance: The Marbury vs. Madison case declared that the supreme court could referee the actions of government. It made a new role for court and established precedence. This court case made the principle of Judicial review a central foundation for checks and balances. Every democracy needs an independent umpire and the Supreme Court has been giving the final call on government actions since this landmark case in 1803.