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1791-1824: We forge a nation where the people rule

February 24, 1803
Marbury v. Madison confirms the Supreme Court’s power

Supreme Court bench

“The courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature…to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority.”
—Alexander Hamilton

Today, Chief Justice Marshall cleverly used a case about William Marbury’s disputed appointment to a minor government post to claim a major power for the Supreme Court.

Marbury deserves his post, Marshall said, even though the Jefferson administration refuses to give it to him. But the Court cannot grant Marbury’s request. That’s because the congressional law that sent this case to the Court is unconstitutional. And since the Constitution is “supreme,” any law that is “repugnant to the Constitution is void.”

The result: the unanimous Court will take no action.

And since Marbury won’t get his appointment, there’s no chance the president will defy the ruling. Or challenge the important precedent the court has set by declaring – for the first time – that an act of Congress is unconstitutional.

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