Thomas Jefferson, a member of the Republican Party, won the election
of 1800. Before Jefferson took office, John Adams, the outgoing
President who was a Federalist, quickly appointed 58 members of his own
party to fill government jobs created by Congress. He did this because
he wanted people from his political party in office.
It was the responsibility of Adams' Secretary of State, John
Marshall, to finish the paperwork and give it to each of the newly
appointed officials. Although Marshall signed and sealed all of the
papers, he failed to deliver 17 of them to the appointees. Marshall
thought his successor would finish the job. But when Jefferson became
President, he told his new Secretary of State, James Madison, not to
deliver some of the papers. Those individuals couldn't take office until
they actually had their papers in hand.
Adams had appointed William Marbury to be justice of the peace of the
District of Columbia. Marbury was one of the last-minute appointees who
did not receive his papers. He sued Jefferson's Secretary of State,
James Madison, and asked the Supreme Court of the United States to issue
a court order requiring that Madison deliver his papers.
Marbury argued that he was entitled to the job and that the Judiciary
Act of 1789 gave the Supreme Court of the United States original
jurisdiction to issue a writ of mandamus, which is the type of
court order he needed. When the case came before the Court, John
Marshall — the person who had failed to deliver the commission in the
first place — was the new Chief Justice. The Court had to decide whether
Marbury was entitled to his job, and if so, whether the Judiciary Act
of 1789 gave the Court the authority it needed to force the Secretary of
State to appoint Marbury to his position.
Questions to Consider
Keeping in mind his role in the original appointments, who was Chief
Justice Marshall likely to side with, Marbury or Madison? Why?
If the Court decided that Marbury was entitled to his job, how could
it be sure that the executive branch would deliver it? Does the Court
have the power to force compliance? What would happen if the Court
issued the writ, but the executive branch refused to comply?
According to Article 3, Section 2 of the Constitution, in what types
of cases does the Supreme Court of the United States have original
jurisdiction? Does the Congress have the authority to change the Court's