The year is 1800, and Adams, leader of the Federalist party has lost his reelection to Thomas Jefferson.
He passes the Judiciary Act of 1801, creating a number of court-related offices, which he fills with 16 Federalist circuit judges, and 42 Federalist justices. But Jefferson and Madison are in no hurry to deliver the commissions of the appointees.
Now, Mr Jefferson, the Federalists will control the judicial branch
Not so fast President Adams. You haven't mailed all the commission letters yet have you?
Most of the appointees who did not receive their commission accepted their fate passively.
But businessman William Marbury, the Federalist leader of Maryland was not so easily silenced.
I'll have that commission yet! Why if Madison doesn't do it, I'll make him!
Marbury sued for a writ of mandamus (a court order forcing a government official to perform his/her duty) against Madison
Supreme Justice John Marshall confronts a dilemma: if he refuses to issue the writ of mandamus, the judicial branch would appear submissive to the executive branch. If he issues the writ, he would not be able to enforce it, if Jefferson simply ignored the writ.
Marshall determines that Marbury has a right to the commision based on the present law, but takes this opportunity to criticize Jefferson and Madison.
For the first time in American history, a law has been declared unconstitutional, making Marbury vs Madison a landmark case
It is true that Madison should deliver you appointment. Shame on you Secretary for "sporting away the vested rights of others". However, the Court cannot issue such a writ, as the act of congress giving jurisdiction to the supreme court is unconstitutional.
“It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. ”
For the first time, the Supreme Court had declared a law of Congress unconstitutional, and established judicial review one of the most important doctrines in the American history. In the 1798 Kentucky Resolutions, Jefferson had argued that the power of judicial review belonged to the states, but Marshall’s ruling gave this authority to the Supreme Court.