Supreme Court Case Study #1

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Marbury v. Madison (1803)
This landmark Supreme Court case was the first time that the Supreme Court declared an act of Congress (a section of the Judiciary Act of 1789) to be unconstitutional. Use pg. 321 in your textbook and Supreme Court Case Study #1 to help you answer the following questions.

  1. Just looking at their political parties, how do we know that Jefferson and Marshall saw the Constitution very differently?

  1. What did William Marbury want? Who kept him from receiving it and why?

  1. Why did Marbury take James Madison to court?

  1. What law did Marbury use to take his case directly to the Supreme Court?

  1. What were the 3 questions Marshall believed were the basis of the case

  1. How did Marshall answer the first 2 questions?

  1. The final question was most important. What was ruled unconstitutional and why?

  1. What judicial precedent did Marshall’s ruling in the case establish? What were the 3 principles of that precedent?

  1. Why might John Marshall’s political party influence his actions as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? (think about what the party believed in)

Use the excerpt below and your understanding of US History to answer #10-12.

Chief Justice John Marshall explained that the Constitution is, “the paramount law of the nation.” The whole point of a written Constitution, Marshall asserted, was to ensure that government stayed within its prescribed limits: “The powers of the Legislature are defined and limited; and [so] that those limits may not be mistaken or forgotten, the Constitution is written. “[T]he Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle… that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void. Furthermore, the Supreme Court is the proper authority to decide if a law is in conflict with the Constitution.” He called this responsibility “the very essence of judicial duty.”

In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton discussed “the rights of the courts to pronounce legislative acts void, because contrary to the Constitution.” He explained in Federalist No. 78, “No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid…” Although the Founders, including Hamilton, considered the courts the weakest branch of government, their power to identify and invalidate unconstitutional laws is essential to the preservation of constitutional law.

  1. What did John Marshall say was the chief purpose of written constitutions in Marbury v. Madison (1803)?

  1. What did he call the “very essence of judicial duty”?

  1. Throughout American history, some have asserted that states (and not the Supreme Court) are the rightful judges of whether a law is constitutional. What would be some advantages and disadvantages of this arrangement?

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