Lexis Nexis - Case Brief

Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

Law School Case Brief

Marbury v. Madison - 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803)


It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each. So if a law be in opposition to the Constitution; if both the law and the Constitution apply to a particular case, so that the court must either decide that case conformably to the law, disregarding the Constitution; or conformably to the Constitution, disregarding the law; the court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case. This is of the very essence of judicial duty.


William Marbury, Dennis Ramsay, Robert Townsend Hooe, and William Harper, by their counsel, Charles Lee, severally moved the court for a rule to James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States, to show cause why a mandamus should not issue commanding him to cause to be delivered to them respectively their several commissions as justices of the peace in the District of Columbia. This motion was supported by affidavits of the following facts: that notice of this motion had been given to Mr. Madison; that Mr. Adams, the late President of the United States, nominated the applicants to the Senate for their advice and consent to be appointed justices of the peace of the District of Columbia; that the Senate advised and consented to the appointments; that commissions in the due form were signed by the said President appointing them justices, and that the seal of the United States was in due form affixed to the said commissions by the Secretary of State; that the applicants have requested Mr. Madison to deliver them their said commissions, who has not complied with that request; and that their said commissions were withheld from them. The applicants requested for the delivery of the said commissions from the Court.


Did the Court have an authority to issue writs of mandamus to the Secretary of State?




The Court granted a rule to show cause, requiring the Secretary to show cause why a mandamus should not issue to direct him to deliver to the commissions. No cause was shown and the applicant filed a motion for a mandamus. The Court determined that the applicant had a vested legal right in his appointment because his commission had been signed by the President, sealed by the Secretary of State, and the appointment was not revocable. The Court found that because the applicant had a legal title to the office, the laws afforded him a remedy. However, the Court held that § 13 of the Act of 1789, giving the Court authority to issue writs of mandamus to an officer, was contrary to the Constitution as an act of original jurisdiction, and therefore void.

Access the full text case Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.
Be Sure You're Prepared for Class