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Marbury v. Madison: The Beginnings of Judicial Review


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• Part 2: A Little Background
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Part 3: History in the Making

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Text of the Decision

Part 1: John Marshall and the Law

The Constitution says that the United States shall have a Supreme Court, but the rest of the details are rather fuzzy. In other words, nowhere in the Constitution does it specifically say whether the Supreme Court can declare a law unconstitutional. For that power, we have to turn to one of the giants of American history--John Marshall.

Marshall was not the first Chief Justice of the United States. (That was John Jay.) Marshall was, however, the first very influential Chief Justice. His decisions, beginning with Marbury v. Madison, set the tone and much of the legal precedent that is still being followed by Supreme Court justices today.

In very simple terms, Marbury v. Madison, is important because it was the first time a law of Congress was ever declared unconstitutional, or in conflict with the Constitution. If the Constitution is the law of the land and something is conflict with that law of the land, then that something is illegal.

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