The Marshall Court (1801–35)


What were the underlying facts of Marbury v. Madison?

Federalist John Adams was leaving the presidency, having been defeated by his vice president, Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson. The Federalist Congress quickly passed a new judiciary act that created many new judgeships, including forty-five justice-of-the-peace positions. Adams’s secretary of state—none other than John Marshall himself—then had to sign the commissions for these “midnight justices” for them to take office.

Unfortunately, Marshall did not have time to deliver all the commissions before the new Jefferson administration took over the White House. Seventeen justices of the peace, including William Marbury, did not receive their commissions before the new president was in office. Marbury sued Jefferson’s secretary of state, James Madison, asking the Court to issue a writ of mandamus forcing Madison to deliver Marbury his commission.


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