Marbury v. Madison: Definition, Summary & Significance Video

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  • 0:05 What is Judicial Review?
  • 1:14 Background of Marbury…
  • 3:04 Result of the Case
  • 4:39 Significance of the Case
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
In this lesson, you'll learn about the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court case of ''Marbury v. Madison'', and how the case established the notion of judicial review.

What is Judicial Review?

In sports, referees and umpires are in charge of determining what is and is not allowed in a game. Referees and umpires make sure both teams and coaches follow the rules and play fairly. If a player or coach isn't playing fairly or breaks a rule that was agreed upon, then the referee or umpire has the power to issue penalties and consequences. Much like these referees and umpires in the sports world, our country has judges who are in charge of making sure people are treated fairly. They can determine if citizens have broken a law and can issue consequences. However, they also have the power to determine if laws or acts themselves are unfair.

We call the power a judge has, specifically a U.S. Supreme Court judge, to determine if a law or act is unfair the power of judicial review. Specifically, the power of judicial review looks at a law or act and determines if it goes against what is written in the Constitution.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. Constitution doesn't explicitly give the U.S. Supreme Court the power of judicial review. The power of judicial review instead came from a court case -- Marbury v. Madison.

Background of Marbury v. Madison

Imagine applying for a job, being interviewed, and then getting the job. Congratulations! But not so fast - before starting the job, the company you applied to is purchased by another company and the boss that hired you was fired, as was the human resource department who was in charge of sending you your contract and hiring papers. Thus, you do not have any of your hiring paperwork and the new company will not officially let you start working at the company. A very similar situation happened within the U.S. Government back in 1800.

Thomas Jefferson, a member of the Republican Party, won the election of 1800. As a result, the outgoing president, John Adams, rushed to appoint members of his own party to fill government posts created by Congress.

Some of the members appointed to fill government posts were judges. In order to officially take the position of a judge, a judge-to-be had to be given official paperwork. It was the responsibility of the Secretary of State under John Adams, whose name was John Marshall, to finish and deliver the paperwork and give it to each of the newly appointed judges.

Although Marshall signed and sealed all of the paperwork, there were judges-to-be that never got their paperwork. Marshall assumed that his successor as Secretary of State, James Madison, would finish the job, but when Jefferson became president, he told Madison not to deliver the outstanding paperwork because Jefferson didn't want members of the opposing political party to take office. One of those people that did not get their paperwork was judge-to-be William Marbury. Since Marbury didn't have the paperwork in hand, he could not officially take his post as a judge.

Because he felt he was being treated unfairly, Marbury sued James Madison and asked the Supreme Court of the United States to issue a court order requiring that Madison deliver his papers.

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