What were the short-term ramifications of Marbury v. Madison?

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The case of Marbury v. Madison is often examined for its long-term consequences, which have been significant, to say the least. Indeed, the short-term results were rather insignificant in comparison. Considering that the court had in fact decided that Marbury had the right to receive his commission as well as...

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The case of Marbury v. Madison is often examined for its long-term consequences, which have been significant, to say the least. Indeed, the short-term results were rather insignificant in comparison. Considering that the court had in fact decided that Marbury had the right to receive his commission as well as the right to remedy but that the court could not force Madison to actually hand over the commission, nothing immediate and tangible actually took place.

What did have immediate ramifications was that this case effectively struck down Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789. Here, the Supreme Court was saying that it did not actually have the authority to rule in a case like this because making such a decision was violating its constitutional powers. The Judiciary Act of 1789 gave the Supreme Court the power to issue what were known as writs of mandamus. This gave the Court permission to order a department of the Executive Branch to issue commissions. The only problem here is that the Constitution does not grant the Supreme Court jurisdiction in this sphere.

All this led to even greater animosity than before between the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists, with Justice Marshall belonging to the latter and President Jefferson to the former. Justice Marshall's statement that Marbury was entitled to his post as a judge did little to endear him to the president even though the decision ultimately ruled in Jefferson's favor. As a result, Jefferson and his supporters launched many public statements against Marshall and his court.

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The most important short-term ramification of Marbury v. Madison (1803) was the avoidance of a major constitutional crisis. It's often forgotten that the Supreme Court actually found that the plaintiff, Marbury, wasn't entitled to his judicial commission. In other words, the Court found in favor of the government.

Chief Justice Marshall evidently realized that had the Court ruled against the executive then it would almost certainly have led to a curtailment of the judiciary's power and influence within the American system of government. The Democratic-Republicans under Thomas Jefferson had only recently scored decisive victories in both Presidential and Congressional elections. Marshall, as an ardent Federalist, was therefore keen to avoid antagonizing his newly-empowered Democratic-Republican opponents

The last thing he wanted was for President Jefferson or the Democratic-Republican-controlled Congress to clip the Supreme Court's wings, especially now that it had arrogated to itself the power of judicial review, the most important long-term ramification of Marbury v. Madison.

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Marbury v. Madison (1803) had three short-term ramifications. The case is, of course, chiefly remembered for its one long-term ramification: the Supreme Court's power of judicial review.

First, William Marbury, a Federalist, did not receive the position he had been promised; in any case, his term would have been half over. He was supposed to take up a job in the District of Colombia as justice of the peace in 1801. Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the Supreme Court did not have the authority to force President Thomas Jefferson to deliver a letter of appointment to Marbury.

Second, the case was a result—and continuation—of the factious quarrels between the two political parties: the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans. President John Adams was loath to accept defeat in the 1800 election, so he had attempted to appoint a last-minute slew of Federalist judges. Marshall, a Federalist, could have recused himself from Marbury v. Madison, but he did not.

Finally, Jefferson tried to counter Federalist power in the nation's judiciary. In 1804, two Federalist judges were impeached, and one—District Judge John Pickering—was removed from office. Justice Samuel Chase of the Supreme Court survived an impeachment vote, however.

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Of course, the long-term ramifications of Marbury v. Madison were enormous. By establishing the principle of judicial review in ruling key portions of the Judiciary Act unconstitutional, the Court asserted its power in ways that permanently changed its role in federal government. Its short-term importance, however, was quite limited. The Supreme Court would not actually rule on the constitutionality of another federal law until its decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857. One consequence of the decision was that William Marbury, the "midnight justice" who petitioned the Court to force James Madison to deliver his commission, was denied the right to receive the document. So, indeed, were many other Federalist appointees to judgeships, which were eliminated by another Judiciary Act passed by a Republican-dominated Congress even before the decision in Marbury was delivered. But the importance of the decision to posterity was far from evident at the time, though Jefferson did realize it strengthened the judiciary branch.

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