William Marbury v. James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States

COURTSupreme Court of the United States
JUDGES/CORAMChief Justice John Marshall, William Cushing, William Paterson, Samuel Chase, Bushrod Washington and Alfred Moore


Marbury v. Madison, was a landmark case of the Supreme Court of the United States that manifested and initiated the principle of ‘judicial review’ which in clear terms meant that the courts of the United States had the power to strike down or nullify any law or statute or even Government action that contradicts and contravenes the constitution of the United States.

The main outcome of the landmark verdict of the Supreme Court of United States established that the US constitution is ‘actual law’ and it is not prima facie based on the statements of the principles of politics or ideals, it further defined the underlining difference between the constitutionally separate executive and the judicial areas of the American form of Government.


The facts of the case are as follows: The issue of the case was initiated from the point of the ideological and political rivalry and hatred between the retiring U.S. president John Adams and incoming or arriving president Thomas Jefferson. After the victory of Thomas Jefferson over John Adams two days prior to the end of the presidential period of John Adams, Adam recruited number of officials who was in his favour and were staunch supports of his Federalist Party to new circuit judge and justice of the peace positions, which agitated the incoming president and his fellow supporters of the Democratic-Republican party. The state confirmed the recruitment of several officials made by the retiring president but after Jefferson took over president ship of the United States the commissions of a number of judges were not delivered to them and the new president i.e., Jefferson stated that the commissions were void and clearly instructed the new secretary of the state i.e., James Madison not to deliver the same. One of the men who were waiting for the commission and did not receive the same was William Marbury, he was a businessman by profession and huge supporter of the ex-federalist government that was governed by Adams. Due to repetitive failure of acceptance of request for the payment of commission, Marbury filed a suit in the Supreme Court of United States for the issuance of writ of mandamus, which built a pressure on Madison to deliver commission.

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The main issues in the case were:

  1. Whether or not Marbury had a right to his commission.
  2. If Marbury had a right, was there a legal remedy for him to obtain it.
  3. If there was such a remedy, could the Supreme Court legally issue it?

Summary of court decision and judgment

The decision of the court was fair and just and against the secretary of the State i.e., Marbury. The decision of the court was written by the Hon’ble chief justice John Marshall. Once the court came to a fair conclusion that Marbury must receive the commission, as he had the right to commission and the availability of legal remedy for him to prove it, John Marshall then further concluded that a writ of mandamus is a type of court order that directs the government officials and delegates to perform the specified acts they are bound to perform.

This then brought John Marshall to the landmark conclusion that “the propriety of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over the matter, which would determine whether or not the Court had the power to issue the writ Marbury requested. Marbury had argued that the Judiciary Act of 1789 gave the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over his case.


The case is a very straightforward case and this gave rise to a very important matter as well. The Judicial review concept has been adopted by the Indian constitution as well taking inspiration the constitution of the United States. This case has stated that government officials or the government is not above the constitution and the rule of law and rule of the land. The violation of any citizen’s rights is unacceptable in the eyes of the law in any state and even if the president is supporting a decision; it won’t be counted or favoured. This is a decision which very specifically portrays the rule of judiciary over the executive.

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Chief Justice John Marshall with the help of this verdict has inspired a lot of countries as this concept has been encouraged and adopted by a number of developing countries to protect the rights of the citizens no matter who they politically support and whose government is in function. The democratic countries have the concept of judicial review as a weapon to protect the citizens against any exploitation or violation of legal or fundamental rights.


This case has given rise to the development of judicial review. This is the single most important decision of the American constitution. Marbury also proved that the power of judicial review encapsulates actions by the executive – the President and his cabinet members and everyone is equal in the eyes of law.

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