William Marbury had been confirmed as a Washington, D.C., justice of the peace in the waning days of the Adams administration, but the incoming Jefferson administration refused to seat him. The U.S. Supreme Court had to decide what to do.
The court faced a no-win situation. It could force the administration to install Marbury or it could bow to the executive branch. But John Marshall, the fourth chief justice of the United States, found a different way.
Although the Judiciary Act of 1789 empowered the court to rule on the case, Marshall judged that the Judiciary Act itself violated the Constitution—a novel idea.
In ceding one power, the chief justice staked out higher ground: the power of judicial review. Marshall’s opinion established the authority of the federal courts to decide whether laws are constitutional.
Marshall asked “whether an act, repugnant to the Constitution,” can become law. He then declared the Constitution the “fundamental and paramount law of the nation.”
— Adapted from “Chief Justice John Marshall,” Jed Graham, Investor’s Business Daily.