Early Supreme Court of the U.S. Files - Paper Example

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Marbury v. Madison is among essential cases in the history of U.S. Supreme Court. This was the first case that the principle of judicial review was applied by the Supreme Court of U.S. Judicial review is an Act of 1879 and stipulates that the federal court has the power to nullify the acts of Congress when they conflict with the Constitution (Bloom, 2014). The outcomes of this case played a crucial role in ensuring that a Supreme Court is a separate branch of government that can decide with no external influence since it has equal power as those of the executive and the Congress. The unanimous ruling was compiled by the Chief Justice John Marshall, which showed that a decision of the Congress can be declared null and void in case it is unconstitutional.

The facts that surrounded Marbury were complicated ones. In 1800 elections, the Democratic- Republic party lead by Thomas Jefferson defeated the John Adams from Federalist Party, and this made an atmosphere filled with political tension to emerge among the Federalists. During his finals days in office, President Adams appointed many justices of the peace to represent and work in the District of Columbia and the Senate approved their commissions, the president signed them and then affixed with governments official seal. However, the delivery of the commissions was not done hence when President Jefferson took office in 1801; he gave orders to James Madison who was then secretary of state not to deliver them. William Marbury (one of the key appointees) petitioned the Supreme Court demanding a legal order or writ of mandamus, for the secretary to show him the reasons why he should not get his commission (Bloom, 2014).

Before the ruling, Chief Justice John Marshall had his opinions that relied exclusively on the particular language of the Constitution, which says that it is the paramount law of the nation and it guarded the deeds of all three arms of the government. Marshall asserted that the primary purpose of a written Constitution is to make sure that government acted and remained within its limited scope. According to him, Legislatures power is well defined in order to ensure these limits are not forgotten or mistaken, the Constitution is written clearly. In case a conflict between the law and the Constitution, the judicial has a duty of following the Constitution. Also, the courts must fathom and articulate what is written in the Constitution and what it means.

It is emphatically the province and responsibility of the judicial department to say what the law is. The final decision concluded that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void, and courts and other departments are bound by that instrument (Bill of Rights Institute, 2017).

Due to the Judicial Act of 1789 and Article III, Marbury was denied his commission by the decision made by Chief Justice Marshall. The decision pleased the sitting President Jefferson since he was against misuse of public resources. It is important to note that Marshall did not affirm that the Court is the only institution that can interpret the Constitution. Additionally, he did not say how the courts should enforce their decision if the Executive or Congress opposed them. After this historic decision of judicial review, the Court started to gain power and became an equal branch of federal government- the same power to the president and Congress (Bill of Rights Institute, 2017). The Supreme Court exercised its power again in 1857 during the Missouri Comprise in Sanford v. Dred Scott when it declared the deeds of Congress were unconstitutional.

Afterwards, the power of judicial review has been used cautiously for several decades since that time. At the start of 20th Century, the Supreme Court started applying federal laws more frequently than ever before. Most of the proponents of judicial review cited the decision of Chief Justice John Marshall in the case of Marbury as a primary source to support the Supreme Court in its ultimate say on what the Constitution means and decide the case based on the analysis (Bill of Rights Institute, 2017). Since this period, the power of the federal government has expanded, and many laws from the state have become subject to federal review. The major reforms are the Fourteenth Amendment and the integration of the protection of the Bill of Rights to avoid it being manipulated by the states. Due to these Amendments, Supreme Court has had opportunities to exercise its power on the judicial review.

Chisholm v. Georgia Case

In 1777, the Executive Council of State of Georgia authorized the purchase of required supplies from a businessman from South Carolina. The state of Georgia did not make the payment immediately after receiving the goods as agreed. After the death of this businessman, his executor- Alexander Chisholm sued the state in an attempt to collect from the state (Durchslag, 2002). Georgia stood with its opinion that it was a sovereign state and it was not subject to the authority of the national court/Supreme Court. The major issue, in this case, was determining whether the U.S Supreme Court has jurisdiction over the states. The court came into agreement that Georgia was subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. This is because all individuals in the U.S form a nation.

According to the reasoning of Justice Wilson a single person has an obligation of obeying laws, so do a group of individuals should obey human laws ("Chisholm v. Georgia", 2013). Also, a state has an obligation of doing justice and fulfilling its commitments, like the way a man would do. A state is composed of people who have shared beliefs. The principal purpose of the Constitution is to establish justice, offer a common defense, ensure domestic tranquillity, and secure the blessing brought by liberty. The folks of the U.S are the ones who created Constitution and people of Georgia are among them ("Chisholm v. Georgia", 2013). The U.S would not formulate laws if they were not meant to be enforced and adhered. Justice Wilson asserted that if a person is supposed to obey laws and obey the Supreme Court, then a state has an obligation of doing the same since a state is comprised of a group of men with same beliefs. This is because a state is just a bigger version of an individual. Everything an individual has to do or should do, and then a state should do or has to do, too.

Georgia did not appear before the court, claiming that court has no authority to hear cases in which a defendant is a state. The court rendered a ruling for the plaintiff- this decision was being guided by Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution (Durchslag, 2002). Afterwards, Georgia challenged the courts jurisdiction as well as its decision in the case. In 1798, the Congress adopted the Eleventh Amendment, which ensured that the court had no power in such cases. Currently, a person suing a state in its court is entitled to taking that suit on appeal to the Supreme Court or federal court.

Dred Scott Case

In 1846, Dred Scott (who was a slave) together with his wife Harriet sued their owner to guarantee them their freedom at St. Louis city court. The two had stayed with their owner on his farm in Fort Snelling and then moved to the free Territory of Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, Scott lived for four years as free man hiring himself when his owner was away since slavery was banned in this Territory. Scott, his wife, and children worked so hard with the aim of buying their freedom from their owner, but Eliza Irene refused to sell their liberty. Scott chose to sue Sanford in one of the state courts; he argued that his family as a whole were free because they had stayed in a territory where slavery was illegal for a significant period (Gavins, n.d.).

In the past, the court had made a ruling that claimed that after a slave has moved to a free territory for an extended period, he could not be taken back to a slave state. Nevertheless, this was not the case as the two private parties struggle with this lawsuit for 11 years. This became as one of the most disreputable rulings that have ever been made by the Supreme Court of the U.S. Initially, in 1850, the state court made a ruling in favor of Scott and set him free ("Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857)", 2017). However, the wage of the plaintiff had been upheld, and the money was to be given back after the case has been determined. Mr. Sanford (heir of the slave owner) was not willing to give Scott his wage, and he then appealed the ruling to the Missouri Supreme court. The case of Dred Scott grew in significance and scope as it moved to the Supreme Court as the issue of slavery became one of the most explosive issues in the politics of America. When the case entered the high court, it had already become huge political implications for the whole nation.

In 1857, Chief Justice Roger Taney read the unanimous agreement of the court which stated that slaves were not U.S citizens as they were black hence they should not expect any form of protection from the courts or nation government (Gavins, n.d.). Also, the Congress did not have authority or power to prohibit slavery from a Federal territory. The court stated that slave-owners had their rights, which were protected by the Constitution by the Fifth Amendment since slaves were taken as property. The Court argued that although Scott had stayed in a free state for a significant period, this did not guarantee him the right and status as a U.S citizen. The Congress is the only body that has the power of defining nationality, but each state has its way of creating citizenship. The court affirmed that the U.S citizens are those people who were members of a given political community when the Constitution was being created meaning individuals heir and slaves could not be included in that community ("Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857)", 2017).

This ruling moved the country closer to the eruption of Civil War. The tension between the North and the South increased with time. The anti-slavery forces had been offended by the ruling, and this made them fuel tension and violence between abolitionists and slave-owners on the frontier. The Republican Party was empowered, and this facilitated the Congress and stated to ratify three major Amendments- Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, which directly overturned the ruling of the court during the Dred Scott Case. Currently, all folks naturalized or born in the U.S are Americans citizens who entitled to the right of taking the suit to the federal court.


Bloom, L. H. (2014). Marbury v. Madison. Do great cases make bad law? 1-22.

Bill of Rights Institute (2017). Judicial review or judicial activism? Marbury V. Madison (1803). Retrieved from http://www.billofrightsinstitute.org/educate/educator-resources/lessons-plans/landmark-supreme-court-cases-elessons/marbury-v-madison-1803/

Chisholm v. Georgia | Case Brief Summary. (2013). Casebriefsummary.com. Retrieved from http://www.casebriefsummary.com/chisholm-v-georgia/

Durchslag, M. (2002). State sovereign immunity: A reference guide to the United States Constitution (Reference Guides to the United States Constitution; no. 3). Praeger.Gavins, R. (n.d.). Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). The Cambridge Guide to African American History, 83-84.

Our Documents - Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857). (2017). Ourdocuments.gov. Retrieved from https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=29#

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