What was the significance of Marbury v. Madison?

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The significance of Marbury v. Madison is that the ruling in that case gave the Supreme Court of the United States the power of judicial review.  Judicial review is the power to determine whether a law passed by a legislature (in this case, Congress) is constitutional.  In Marbury, the Supreme Court took the power to declare that laws passed by Congress were null and void if they (in the Court’s opinion) violated the Constitution.

Before Marbury, it was not clear which branch (if any) of the federal government could interpret the Constitution.  The Constitution clearly stated that laws were invalid if they were not in accordance with the Constitution, but it did not say who got to decide if laws were invalid.  This was an important issue because the Constitution would not really have much meaning if Congress (for example) could make any law it wanted to simply by saying that the law was constitutional. 

In Marbury, the Supreme Court declared that a law passed by Congress (the Judiciary Act of 1789) was unconstitutional and it therefore said that the law could not be enforced.  This was extremely important in our history because it established that the Court could overrule acts of Congress that were unconstitutional.  This has had an immense impact on our history because it has allowed the Supreme Court to rule on laws that have had to do with everything from the price of hauling freight on railroads to child labor to abortion.  This has made the Supreme Court an important player in our history.

davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main significance of Marbury v. Madison is that, for the first time, it established in the United States the principle of judicial review, the power of courts to strike down legislation deemed unconstitutional. The Supreme Court now had an important role to play at the apex of the American political system. Its decision highlighted and entailed the increasing importance of the judiciary in politics; from now on, matters of great political importance would be decided not just by "We, the People," but "Them, the judges." 

The Supreme Court's arrogation of power was also in keeping with a growing trend toward the centralization of authority in the American political system. A significant component of this process was the overriding of state by federal law. This case further accelerated this process. The Court was overwhelmingly Federalist and, as Federalists, the judges recognized that the increased power of the judiciary in American politics was a valuable tool in constructing the kind of country they wished to see established: a country with a strong federal government, pursuing a largely commercial economic agenda in which the interests of banks and corporations would dominate. This would necessitate the building of a structure of federal laws and regulations that the Supreme Court, thanks to Marbury v. Madison, was now in a strong position to enforce.

shogunstein eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Very simply, John Marshall gave the Supreme Court the power of Judicial Review.  Now, the 9 unelected Judges on the Supreme Court had the power to declare a law passed by an elected legislative body either Constitutional or unconstitutional.

maria-vivanco | Student

This case established the legal rule of judicial review. Before this case, the Supreme Court didn't have much power and this gave them the power to review laws/treaties that the legislative branch wants to pass to see if they are following the constitution. 

caleb2710 | Student

The Marbury v. Madison of 1803 was important because it was the first Supreme Court case to apply the principle of judicial review, the power of federal courts to void acts of Congress that were in conflict with the Constitution. Please see the following links for even more information.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question