Marbury v. Madison and the Marshall Court

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What were the issues that led to the Marbury v. Madison case?

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The other answers here discuss the immediate issues that led to this pivotal Supreme Court case. Therefore, I will discuss some of the deeper background issues that also contributed to it.

This all stemmed from some of the earliest political rivalries in the young United States. President John Adams was...

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The other answers here discuss the immediate issues that led to this pivotal Supreme Court case. Therefore, I will discuss some of the deeper background issues that also contributed to it.

This all stemmed from some of the earliest political rivalries in the young United States. President John Adams was a staunch Federalist. The Federalists tended to have the support of the urban and business elite of the country as well as wealthy planters. This party supported a more active and powerful role taken by the federal government. Thomas Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, favored a much more decentralized approach to governance than Adams. His party had more support among the agrarian sector of the United States. This struggle between two factions and their ideologies had been ongoing since the original drafting of the country's constitution.

As he was leaving office, Adams was keenly aware that the overall mood of the country had shifted to favor Jefferson's vision. Members of the Federalist Party were in a state of panic and despair. They saw their vision for the country and their power to lead it slipping away from them. Adams hoped that he would still be able to protect the interests of his party and its constituents well beyond the end of his presidential tenure. He also wanted to score points against his rival, Jefferson.

The election of 1800 had been tumultuous at best, and Adams was feeling very bitter about his defeat. That led him to his famous (or infamous) midnight appointments to the federal judiciary. He hoped that they would be able to take their seats on the bench before Jefferson could appoint his own judges to these vacancies. However, some of the commissions, including that of William Marbury, were not delivered on time, resulting in what would become this landmark court case.

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The issue that led to the Marbury v. Madison case was largely political with the spat ending up in the United States Supreme Court. John Adams and the Federalists lost to Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans in the 1800 presidential election. However, before Adams vacated office, Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1801, which modified the Act of 1789 by creating more judicial offices and granting the President authority to appoint.

Adams took the opportunity to appoint Federalist supporters to the new positions for purposes of political positioning against the incoming Democratic-Republican Congress. However, time was not on the Federalists' side. Although they did everything to ensure the appointments were made and legally confirmed, delivery of the commissions posed a major challenge. Some of the commissions did not get to the appointees by the time Adams vacated office. Immediately Jefferson assumed office he stopped the commissions through the Secretary of State, James Madison.

William Marbury was among those who did not receive their commission. He pursued the matter in court and sued Madison for withholding his commission. Although his grievance was valid, the Supreme Court denied his petition because his claim was unconstitutional.

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Marbury v. Madison (1803) was a Supreme Court case that arose from a feud over an appointment. When John Adams, a Federalist, was leaving the Presidency in 1801, he selected a large number of political appointees. This included a man named William Marbury who was to be a justice of the peace in Washington, D.C. However, Marbury's appointment was not honored by Secretary of State James Madison, who served under President Jefferson of the Democratic-Republican party.

Adam's appointments were known as the "midnight appointments," and his choices have been portrayed as entirely partisan in nature. In reality, however, Adams did his best to make nonpartisan choices. The reason he had so many offices to fill is not, as it is often portrayed, because he wanted to fill so many federal offices with his choices. Instead, Congress had just passed the Judiciary Act of 1801, and this act, by creating circuit courts, created a great number of jobs that needed to be filled. This task fell to Adams.

When the Supreme Court ruled on this case, it decided that it had no jurisdiction over Marbury's commission. While this ruling seemed to diminish its power, the decision in fact established the principle of judicial review—the idea that the Supreme Court had the power to review laws to determine their constitutionality. Therefore, the case, in effect, expanded the powers of the Supreme Court.

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The main issues that led to the case of Marbury v. Madison were the distrust between the two political parties at the end of John Adams’ presidency and Adams’ desire to perpetuate the power of his party even after it lost the presidency.  These political issues morphed into a legal issue over the legality of James Madison’s actions as part of the new Jefferson Administration.

The election of 1800 was the first one in which one political party lost the presidency to the other party.  As such, it was a very important moment in American history.  John Adams and the Federalists had lost the election to Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans.  In the last days of Federalist control, Congress passed a law expanding the number of federal judgeships, which allowed Adams to fill those positions before the Federalists left power.  Adams and the Federalists believed the Democratic-Republicans were very bad for the country and they felt that it was important for them to get a lot of judges into office to help perpetuate Federalist powers.

When William Marbury tried to take his seat as one of the new judges, he was prevented by the Democratic-Republicans.  He sued them, claiming that he had a right to his job.  This lawsuit became the famous Supreme Court case in which Chief Justice John Marshall declared that the Supreme Court had the power of judicial review.

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