Welcome to the Marbury-go-Round...an audio-animatronic journey through the life of William Marbury. Enter your "Carbury", a replica of the Supreme Court Bench circa 1804, and prepare yourself to journey back to 1800 and see the world through the eyes of William Marbury.
First, you will find yourself witness to the last days of John Adams's presidency. President-elect Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans have swept through the executive and legislative branches of government. However, let's not forget...there is a third branch of government. The Judiciary Act of 1801 creates a slew of judicial positions to fill. Don't fear for your future, Mr. Marbury...your connections with the Federalist Party secured you an appointment as a justice of the peace in the District of Columbia. You are one of the famous "Midnight Judges" appointed by our audio-animatronic Adams in his last days as president.
Thrill in the wacky twists and turns the story takes when Mr. Madison, the incoming Secretary of State, cries to President Jefferson about the undelivered appointment for one William Marbury that he finds on his desk the first day in his new office. Hold on to your tri-cornered hats as Marbury's odyssey which begins with an application for the most famous writ of mandamus in the history of the judiciary, ends with Marbury unemployed and the birth of Judicial Review.
What magician made this all happen? You are about to have your first encounter with Chief Justice John Marshall....the Babe Ruth of the Supreme Court.
At the end of the ride is an interactive adventure where children of all ages play the roles of William Marbury, James Madison, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Chief Justice John Marshall. See how subtle differences in behavior could have changed history.
The Marbury-go-Round is located at the end of Preamble Street. It is housed in a 1/3rd scale model of the Old Royal Exchange Building in New York City...where the first U.S. Supreme Court met (pictured above).
Step 1: President Adams and the Federalist Party are voted out of office (Election of 1800).
Step 2: A law (Judiciary Act of 1801) is passed creating a bunch of jobs (judgships).
Step 3: President Adams appoints a bunch of his guys (Federalists) to fill new jobs (judgships).
Step 4: Commissions (the paper appointments) are not delivered by President Adams.
Step 5: President Jefferson (new president) refuses to give the guys their jobs (deliver the commissions).
Step 6: One of the guys (Marbury) who was appointed but not given job sues in US Supreme Court for order (writ of mandamus) to force Jefferson to give him his job (deliver commission).
Step 7: Chief Justice John Marshall says Marbury SHOULD have been given his job (judgeship).
Step 8: But Marshall says ONLY a law (the Judiciary Act of 1789) gave the Supreme Court the power to give that order (the writ of mandamus).
Step 9: The Constitution did NOT give the Supreme Court the power to grant that order (writ of mandamus).
Step 10: So since the Constitution is stronger than a law Marshall refuses to grant the order and Marbury does not get the job.
IT'S THE OLDEST STORY IN THE WORLD...man gets commission for judgeship, commission doesn't get delivered, man loses judgeship, Chief Justice declares the Constitution supreme and the Supreme Court the final authority of what the Constitution means!
5 U.S. 137 (1803)
In 1801, having lost the recent Congressional and Presidential elections, the Federalists in Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1801 which created a number of new federal judgships. Before leaving office President John Adams took the opportunity thus created to appoint a number of Federalists to these newly created positions. "It appears from the affidavits that, in compliance with this law, a commission for William Marbury as a justice of peace for the County of Washington was signed by John Adams, then President of the United States, after which the seal of the United States was affixed to it, but the commission has never reached the person for whom it was made out." When Jefferson arrived in the White House, disturbed by all the new Federalist judges recently appointed, he ordered his Secretary of State, James Madison, to withhold warrants not yet given. Under a clause of the Judiciary Act of 1789, ranting the U.S. Supreme Court original jurisdiction over issuing writs of mandamus (i.e. orders to government officials to act in their official capacity), Marbury sued for this warrant in the Supreme Court to order Madison to deliver his commission.
Was Marbury appointed to his office?
John Marshall begins his opinion looking at the process for the president to make a judicial appointment. Under Article 2, the president has the power "to appoint...all other officers of the United States" and "He shall commission all the officers of the United States." Pursuant to an act of Congress, the Secretary of State keeps the seal of the United States and affixes the seal "to all civil commissions to officers of the United States." The signature by the president on the commission is a warrant to the Secretary of State to affix the seal. "The commission being signed, the subsequent duty of the Secretary of State is prescribed by law, and not to be guided by the will of the President. He is to affix the seal of the United States to the commission, and is to record it." Thus, all of the Constitutional requirements for an appointment have been met:
"Mr. Marbury, then, since his commission was signed by the President and sealed by the Secretary of State, was appointed, and as the law creating the office gave the officer a right to hold for five years independent of the Executive, the appointment was not revocable, but vested in the officer legal rights which are protected by the laws of his country."
Does Marbury have a remedy under law?
It is a well-established rule of law "the individual who considers himself injured has a right to resort to the laws of his country for a remedy" In a separation of powers discussion, Marshall reasons that the appointment is a political power, but the "question as to whether a right has vested" is to be determined by the "judicial authority." Since Marbury was properly appointed, he must have a remedy under law, and the correct venue to issue that remedy is the judicial branch of the government.
Is the writ of mandamus the proper proceeding?
Mandamus is defined in the Commentaries of William Blackstone, the English legal scholar, as "a command issuing in the King's name from the Court of King's Bench, and directed to any person, corporation, or inferior court of judicature within the King's dominions requiring them to do some particular thing therein specified which appertains to their office and duty." Provided the writ can be directed to this government officer and the person seeking the writ is "without any other specific and legal remedy" then it can be issued. Since the Secretary of State is currently withholding the commission, and Marbury has no other remedy, mandamus is the proper action in this case.
Is the Supreme Court the proper forum in which to seek a writ of mandamus?
Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution identifies the Supreme Court original jurisdiction: "in all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be a party." The original jurisdiction to grant a writ of mandamus does not originate in the Article 3 powers but was granted to the Supreme Court in "the act to establish the judicial courts of the United States" which is a congressional law called the Judiciary Act of 1789. Since there is no provision in the Constitution for adding to the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction (although there is such a provision to add to the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction) the Judiciary Act of 1789 conflicts with the U.S. Constitution.
May a congressional law grant the Supreme Court a power not granted in the Constitution?
To answer the question "whether an act repugnant to the Constitution can become the law of the land," Marshall identifies and explains the nature of a Constitution. In creating a Constitution, the people exercise their "right to establish for their future government such principles as, in their opinion, shall most conduce to their own happiness." Emanating from the people, the "principles" of that Constitution are "fundamental," "supreme" and "designed to be permanent." With respect to the laws enacted by the legislature empowered by the Constitution, the rule is "too plain to be contested that the Constitution controls any legislative act repugnant to it."
Who decides whether a law is "repugnant" to the Constitution? Or, which branch of government determines whether laws are unconstitutional?
Chief Justice John Marshall takes the opportunity presented by the Marbury decision to bestow upon the U.S. Supreme Court the power of judicial review. Towards that goal, he writes some of the most famous words in the history of the Supreme Court:
"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 that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the Courts must decide on the operation of each. So, 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."
Final Thoughts on the Power of A Constitution
Marshall concludes his opinion with a summation on the omnipotence of a written constitution..."the greatest improvement on political institutions." He uses the text of the Constitution itself, specifically the Supremacy Clause, to prove its power:
"It is also not entirely unworthy of observation that, in declaring what shall be the supreme law of the land, the Constitution itself is first mentioned, and not the laws of the United States generally, but those only which shall be made in pursuance of the Constitution, have that rank.
Thus, 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."
Marbury v. Madison...Marshall's proclamation of the power of the Supreme Court, his love letter to the Constitution, his first and greatest decision. As long as the U.S. Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land, people will read and revere Marbury v. Madison.
Dr. Bonham's Case (1610) This case from old English common law decided by the famous jurist Lord Coke involved a Doctor Bonham who was imprisoned for practicing medicine without a license. The underlying law was held to be invalid by Lord Coke:
"[I]t appears in our books that in many cases the common law will control acts of parliament and sometimes adjudge them to be utterly void; for when an act of parliament is against common right and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, the common law will control it and adjudge such act as void."
From J. H. Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History, 3rd ed. (1990)
The Federalist (also called The Federalist Papers) is a series of 85 essays written in 1788 and 1789 by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay as a sort of explanation on how the nation would be governed under the new Constitution. Additionally, the essays were crafted as persuasive arguments expressing the flaws of the old system and in favor of ratification of the Constitution. Today, they are considered classics of political sentences.
From The Federalist No. 78 "The Judiciary Department" by Alexander Hamilton we see Hamilton's view of the role of the Supreme Court:
"The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution. By a limited Constitution, I understand one which contains certain specified exceptions to the legislative authority; such, for instance, as that it shall pass no bills of attainder, no ex-post-facto laws, and the like. Limitations of this kind can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing.
Some perplexity respecting the rights of the courts to pronounce legislative acts void, because contrary to the Constitution, has arisen from an imagination that the doctrine would imply a superiority of the judiciary to the legislative power. It is urged that the authority which can declare the acts of another void, must necessarily be superior to the one whose acts may be declared void. As this doctrine is of great importance in all the American constitutions, a brief discussion of the ground on which it rests cannot be unacceptable.
There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid."
From the Avalone Project: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed78.asp.
Sir Edward Coke
1. Who was William Marbury?
The son and grandson of tobacco farmers and plantation owner from Maryland, by the time Marbury reached adulthood, inheritance to older relatives, the revolution, the collapse of the tobacco market and exhaustion of the fields from the tobacco crops depleted the families entire fortune and landholdings. William Marbury had to make his fortune on his own...and he did through politic connections and finance.
In the 1780s he was a deputy tax collector in and around Annapolis. He also attended the Maryland ratifying convention which ratified the US Constitution. In the 1790s Marbury became the State Agent of Maryland, an unelected official who acted as a financier organizing the economy and finances of the state of Maryland. He also developed a number of very powerful friends in the new government, mostly contacts within the Adams wing of the Federalist party.
In the late 1790s, Marbury moved with his family to Georgetown and became a part of the social elite. He was considered a nationally renowned expert on finance and became a board of director f the Bank of Columbia. His support of Adams in the election of 1800, along with other political connections, got his name included with the 23 other individuals for a position as a justice of the peace in Washington County...at the age of 38, he was about to enter constitutional immortality.
(The above information is just a summary of a thorough article. David F. Forte, Marbury's Travail: Federalist Politics and William Marbury's Appointment as Justice of the Peace, 45 Catholic University Law Review 349 (1996). Excellent reading for legal history fans...the authors research of primary sources is impressive.)
2. Who forgot to deliver Marbury's appointment?
You are not going to believe it! President John Adams' Secretary of State was responsible for preparing and delivering official presidential commissions. In the last two months of President Adams's term, that Secretary of State, who was also the Chief Justice of the United States, was JOHN MARSHALL. Marshall had asked his brother James Marshall to deliver the appointments, physically. Some of these commissions, including Mr. Marbury's, were never delivered. The commissions were sitting on the desk of the new Secretary of State, James Madison. Marbury's commission was signed by John Marshall personally.
From Robert J. Reinstein, Marbury's Myths: John Marshall, Judicial Review and the Rule of Law, (2004)
3. Did Secretary of State John Marshall drop the ball?
John Marshall believed the delivery of the commissions was a mere administrative formality that would be carried out by the incoming administration in the ordinary course of business...in Marshall's opinion, the new administration had a legal duty to deliver the signed and sealed commissions. So, although his brother did not deliver the commissions, since they were signed and sealed, the appointment was complete in all but the physical sense.
From Charles H. Hobson, Symposium: Marbury v. Madison and the Revolution of 1800: John Marshall, the Mandamus Case, and the Judiciary Crisis, 1801-1803, 72 George Washington Law Review 289 (2003)
4. Who refused to deliver Marbury's commission?
Although the defendant in the case is James Madison, he did not arrive in Washington until May, 1801. Jefferson took full responsibility for withholding the commissions: "I found them on the table of the department of State on my entrance into office, and I forbade their delivery. [T]here was as yet no Secretary of State." Jefferson saw the appointment of the "midnight judges" as a Federalist power grab for control of the least democratic branch of government. In his mind, it was an illegitimate act which allowed him to act as he saw fit.
From Charles H. Hobson, Symposium: Marbury v. Madison and the Revolution of 1800: John Marshall, the Mandamus Case, and the Judiciary Crisis, 1801-1803, 72 George Washington Law Review 289 (2003) citing Letters from Thomas Jefferson to William Johnson (June 12, 1823), in Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, from the Papers Thomas Jefferson 373 (Thomas Jefferson Randolph ed. , 1829).
5. What happened to William Marbury? Marbury continued to work in finance and founded two banks, Bank of the Potomac and Farmers' and Mechanic Bank. He died in 1835, the same year as John Marshall.
6. What did Thomas Jefferson think about the decision in Marbury v. Madison? President Jefferson , in a letter to Abigail Adams after the decision was handed down, articulated his vision of who has the power to interpret the Constitution:
"The Constitution...meant that its coordinate branches should be checks on each other. But the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch."
From Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams, 1804 (Cited in http://www.landmarkcases.org/marbury/jefferson.html)
William Marbury...got screwed by Jefferson and Madison!