The first U.S. Supreme Court case to apply the principle of "judicial review" - the power of federal courts to void acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution is considered to be one of the most important cases in the Supreme Court history. This case was a landmark United States Supreme Court case because the Court formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution (LII). Written in 1803 by Chief Justice John Marshall, the decision played a key role in making the Supreme Court a separate branch of government on par with Congress and the executive.
The issue that the case resolved was itself of little significance. It was all based on an issue of political patronage, pitting the ascendant Jeffersonians against the upcoming departing Federalists. The feud between them was intense and came to a full out blood bath at court. The case can only be understood against the background of the election of 1800, in which Thomas Jefferson defeated the incumbent president, John Adams, and his Democratic-Republican party also gained control of the Congress (McNamara). In those days, there was a long lame duck period between the November election and the inauguration of a new president (The Charters of Freedom).
Adams appointed John Marshall as Secretary of State, and then appointed him also as Chief Justice of the United States when that position became vacant. The Federalist-dominated Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1801, which created circuit courts of appeal much like they are today, and relieved the justices of the Supreme Court of their obligation to "ride circuit." It also increased the jurisdiction of the federal courts. Adams immediately appointed 16 new judges to these courts--all Federalists--and all were confirmed by the Senate. On February 27, 1801, just days before Jefferson was to take office, Congress passed another bill. The Justice of the Peace Act provided Adams with the opportunity to appoint 42 justices of the peace to five-year terms in Washington (The Supreme Court Historical Society). Most of Adams's nominations went to deserving Federalists, and all were confirmed by the Senate. William Marbury was one of those appointed. These were known as the "Midnight Judges" (The Supreme Court Historical Society).
Virtually all constitutional law courses in America's colleges and law schools begin with the Marbury case. And there are good reasons for this. With the possible exception of the Supreme Court's 1819 decision in McCulloch v. Maryland - which held that “Congress had broad "implied" powers under Art. I, Sec. 8, Clause18 (the "Necessary and Proper" clause)” , and is generally considered to be the foundation of the modern state - no other case from this period offers so much (Exploring Constitutional Conflicts).
Marbury's visibility and influence now extends far beyond America's borders. It has been an inspiration and a model for many of the world's...