James Madison

Political Offices

As secretary of state, how did Madison become involved in a famous Supreme Court decision?

When Jefferson became president, he sought to thwart former President John Adams’s last-minute attempt to stock the federal judiciary with Federalist appointees. Jefferson ordered Madison, his secretary of state, not to deliver the commissions of some of the new midnight justices. One of these individuals was William Marbury, who later sued to have his commission delivered.

That led to the famous constitutional case of Marbury v. Madison (1803) in which Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the federal law allowing the appointment of Marbury was unconstitutional. However, Marshall also took time to criticize Madison and Jefferson and to declare that the judicial branch had the power to declare legislative and executive branch acts unconstitutional under judicial review.


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