HOW CAN THE SUPREME COURT DECLARE LAWS TO BE UNCONSTITUTIONAL?
The Constitution grants each branch of government certain powers. To prevent any
one branch from becoming too powerful, a system of checks and balances is part of
this framework. While the Constitution specifies balancing powers for the executive
and legislative branches, it says little about the judicial branch. One challenge
facing the young government was to decide how the judiciary could balance the
powers of the President and the legislature.
The Facts The Issue The Decision
William Marbury asked the Supreme
Court to grant him a job as a federal
judge, which had been promised to him
by the Adams administration but denied by the incoming Jefferson administration.
He also sued Secretary of State James Madison. Marbury argued
that the Judiciary
Act of 1789, gave
the Supreme Court
the power to make a
perform a certain duty. The Court ruled that in passing the 1789 law, Congress had exceeded the powers
granted by the Constitution.
Since the law was
Supreme Court could
not order Madison
to grant Marbury his commission.
WHY IT MATTERS
Marbury v. Madison established the power of judicial review, ensuring that the Supreme Court had the final authority to interpret the meaning of the Constitution. In his majority opinion, Marshall wrote:
“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.”
Marbury v. Madison established the judiciary branch as an equal partner in government. Since 1803, the Supreme Court and other courts have used judicial
review in thousands of cases.
CONNECT TO YOUR WORLD
Supreme Court Justices serve lifetime terms and are responsible for interpreting the
Constitution. When one of the nine seats of the Supreme Court must be filled, the
President nominates a replacement. Then, the Senate must approve the President’s
nomination with a vote. In this way, both the executive and legislative branches can
check and balance the power of the judiciary.
Who are the judges that can declare laws to be unconstitutional in today’s Supreme Court?
Research the Court’s current makeup. Create a Supreme Court profile, indicating which Justices were appointed by Democratic Presidents, which by Republican Presidents, and whether they can be described as strict or loose constructionists.