I bet you didn’t wake up this morning thinking about U.S. Supreme Court decisions or even about the U.S. Constitution itself. Occasionally, though, it is good to reflect on the principles of our Democracy. That brings me to Marbury vs. Madison.
The U.S. Constitution was signed in 1787. Just 16 years later, in 1803, Chief Judge John Marshall authored the landmark decision of Marbury vs. Madison. In that decision, the Court for the first time declared a statute unconstitutional. The decision itself limited the Court’s power, finding powers granted to the Court in the Judiciary Act of 1801, to be beyond the powers included in Article III of the Constitution. Article III provides in pertinent part:
Section 1: The Judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. . .
Section 2. The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases . . . arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made. . .
The Court explained it’s decision as follows: “the particular phraseology of the constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the constitution is void; and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument”.
The Supreme Court’s exercise of the power of Judicial review of statutory law is in sharp contrast to the British laws. The importance of such review was discussed by the founding fathers during the drafting of the Constitution. Alexander Hamilton, whose writings are seen as an important source for Constitutional interpretations, wrote in The Federalist #78, published in 1788, “there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.”
No case authority or Constitutional Amendment has reversed this important decision placing on the Supreme Court the responsibility to review laws enacted by federal and state legislatures for the purpose of determining whether such legislation is consistent with the Constitution. Marbury vs. Madison remains the law of the land.