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Case Studies of John Marshall

Marbury vs. Madison

At the time, two political parties, the Federalists and the Republicans were competing for power in the federal government. Thus, when the Republican’s Thomas Jefferson won the election of 1800, they took control of Congress; however found that the Judiciary, that is the Supreme Court, was still dominated by the Federalists because the justices serve for life under good behaviour. That is why President John Adams, a Federalist, tried to fill up the vacancies in the Supreme Court near the end of his term in order to secure the Federalist’s standing in the Judiciary branch. The Secretary of State during Adam’s administration was James Madison, a Republican. It was Madison’s job to deliver the President’s commissions to the appointees, one of who was William Marbury. Madison tried to delay the appointment in order to help the Republicans and thus Marbury, knowing of his appointment, sued Madison for failing to deliver his commission.

John Marshall, the chief justice, awarded Marbury the writ of mandamus, which declared that Madison should have delivered the commission to Marshall. However, Marshall also declared that the Judiciary Act of 1789, which allowed the Supreme Court to impose the writ of mandamus, was in conflict with Article III of the Constitution, and thus void. This case is important in that it defined the true power of the Supreme Court, as well as the Judiciary branch. It showed that the courts have the power to declare the acts of Congress unconstitutional if they exceeded the rights given by the Constitution. Thus, it is important to recognize the courts as the arbiters of the Constitution, being the final authority to deem what it meant.

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McCulloch vs. Maryland

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Congress established the Second Bank of the United States in 1816. However, in 1819, the state of Maryland’s legislature imposed some taxes on the bank. James McCulloch, a cashier of the Baltimore branch of the bank refused to pay the taxes and sued the state of Maryland for unconstitutionally interfering with Congress’s powers of imposing taxes. The decision of the Supreme Court was in favour of McCulloch, declaring that the state of Maryland could not “tax the instruments of the national government employed in the execution of constitutional powers.” This case is therefore significant in the fact that it limited state rights by addressing that congress, as well as the federal government, had certain powers not explicitly explained in the Constitution.

Dartmouth College vs. Woodward

In 1816, the state of New Hampshire’s legislature decided to make amends to Dartmouth College’s charter, which was originally granted by King George III in 1769. The change would place the institution under the supervision of a board of overseers appointed by the governor and renaming it to Dartmouth University. However, the New Hampshire Supreme Court, reasoning that the college was a public organization and should be subject to public control, upheld the legislature’s action, causing the board of trustees to bring the conflict to the Supreme Court of the United States.

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The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the trustees and reversed the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s decision, reasoning that Dartmouth was not a public organization, but a private organization with a contract, referring to the charter. Thus, saying that Dartmouth was a public organization was wrong in that it came into conflict with the Constitution’s Article I, Section 10, where it forbids any state of impairing a contractual obligation. The case is very important, not as a precedent, but as protection for corporations, saving them from unreasonable and gratuitous attacks upon their privileges and property.

Gibbons vs. Ogden

In 1824, a New York state law gave two individuals the exclusive rights to operate steamboats on waters within the state’s jurisdiction. Consequently, laws like this one were duplicated in other states, leading to conflict, as some states would require out-of-state boats, licensed by the federal government, to pay additional fees for navigation privileges in the state’s waters. In this case, a steamboat owner who did business between New York and New Jersey challenged a New York law that forced him to obtain an operating permit from the State of New York to navigate on its waters.

The Supreme Court found that New York’s licensing requirement for out-of-state operators was inconsistent with a congressional act regulating the coasting trade. John Marshall reasoned that the New York law was invalid and thus reasoned by developing a clear definition of the word commerce, which included navigation on interstate waterways. He concluded that the regulations of navigation by steamboat operators and other people for purposes of conducting interstate commerce was a power reserved to and exercised by Congress. This case was, therefore, an important precedent for future conflicts regarding interstate commerce in the United States and also making Congress have the power to regulate it.

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Case Studies of John Marshall. (2021, Mar 10). Retrieved March 24, 2023, from