What were the long-term consequences of John Marshall's decision in Marbury v. Madison?
The long-term consequences of the Supreme Court’s 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison were profound. In short, the decision, unanimous and penned by Chief Justice John Marshall, reaffirmed the status of the judicial branch of government, relative to that of the Legislative and Executive, and the primacy of the Constitution of the United States with respect to laws passed by the Legislative branch.
The case of Marbury v. Madison centered on the question of Congress’s constitutional authority to make laws and of the role of the Judiciary in reviewing the constitutionality of those laws. Basically, the Legislature could pass laws that did not adhere to the boundaries established by the Constitution but those laws could be invalidated if the Judiciary determined that they, the laws, transgressed the provisions of the Constitution. The provisions of the Constitution, as the supreme law of the land (per Article VI of the Constitution), are inviolate and any law passed by Congress that exceeds, supplants, or undermines in any way those provisions is invalid. As Marshall wrote in his landmark decision regarding both the primacy of the Constitution and the role of the Judiciary in reviewing laws passed by the Legislative Branch:
. . . if a law be in opposition to the Constitution, if both the law and the Constitution apply to a particular case, so that the Court must either decide that case conformably to the law, disregarding the Constitution, or conformably to the Constitution, disregarding the law, the Court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case. This is of the very essence of judicial duty.
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If, then, the Courts are to regard the Constitution, and the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the Legislature, the Constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply.
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This doctrine would subvert the very foundation of all written Constitutions.
In conclusion, the long-term consequences of the Supreme Court decision in Marbury v. Madison lie in the court’s reaffirmation of the supremacy of the Constitution as the law of the land and of the Judiciary’s role in maintaining the balance of power among competing branches of government by virtue of its power to review the actions of the Legislature and the Executive.
The Supreme Court's decision in Marbury v. Madison has had long-term significance because it has established the Court's authority as the final word on the constitutionality of legislation and executive acts. The Marshall Court decided against William Marbury in the case, ruling that one part of the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional, and thus, null and void, according to Marshall's written opinion:
Certainly all those who have framed written constitutions contemplate them as forming the fundamental and paramount law of the nation, and consequently, the theory of every such government must be, that an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void.
In case the significance of this statement eluded the reader, Marshall went on to assert the power of the federal judiciary even more forcefully:
It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret the rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each.
It followed that for judicial review to be meaningful, it had to be lasting, a fact that would have been obvious to readers familiar with the common law emphasis on precedent. Thus the Supreme Court claimed the power of judicial review, an enormous power, as subsequent court cases have shown. The Supreme Court has served as a check on Congress and the Executive ever since this decision, much to the frustration of both.