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Marbury v. Madison: Primary Documents in American History

In 1803, the U.S. Supreme Court decision Marbury v. Madison established the principle of judicial review. This guide provides access to digital materials at the Library of Congress, external websites, and a print bibliography.

Introduction

The U.S. Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison (1803) established the principle of judicial review—the power of the federal courts to declare legislative and executive acts unconstitutional. The unanimous opinion was written by Chief Justice John Marshall.

President John Adams named William Marbury as one of forty-two justices of the peace on March 2, 1801. The Senate confirmed the nominations the following day, March 3, which was Adams's last full day in office. However, acting Secretary of State John Marshall failed to deliver four of the commissions, including Marbury’s. When Thomas Jefferson took office on March 4, he ordered that the four remaining commissions be withheld. Marbury sued the new secretary of state, James Madison, in order to obtain his commission. The Supreme Court issued its opinion on February 24, 1803.