John Marshall's Legacy

Court Cases

Marbury vs Madison

Year or Case: 1803

Summary: When John Adam's lost reelection to Thomas Jefferson, he still had a couple months in which he still obtained authority. Adams appointed William Marbury and several others to Supreme Court Justices. Jefferson's Secretary of State, James Madison, refused to deliver Marbury's commission as well as a few other appointees. In retaliation, on February 24, 1803, Marbury petitioned for a writ of mandamus but Chief Justice John Marshall denied his petition claiming it was unconstitutional therefore the Court had invalid power. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that President Jefferson and his Secretary of State, James Madison, were both wrong to prevent Marbury from taking office. Also, the Court ruled one, Marbury had the right to writ and two, Marbury had the right to commission and since his rights were taken for time being, the law must give him a remedy. The last thing that Marshall ruled was denial to Marbury's commission.

Constitutional Principle: Judicial review

Significance: Marbury vs. Madison is arguably the most important U.S., Supreme Court case in history because it brought about judicial review that gave the federal courts the power to void acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution

Fletcher vs Peck

Year of Case: 1810

Summary: The Georgia state legislature passed a land grant that gave territory to four companies. Then the following year, the law had been voided out and all of the things that came with it were no longer existent. In 1800, John Peck got land that was a part of the original legislative grant and three years later sold some to Robert Fletcher claiming for the sales to be legitimate but since the land was invalid, Peck had no right to sell the land and Fletcher created a breach of contract.

Constitutional Principle: The Georgia legislature taking away a land grant was unconstitutional because it revoked rights of previously owned land.

Significance: The first decision to declare a state legislative act unconstitutional

Martin vs Hunter's Lesse

Year of Case: 1816

Summary: Lord Fairfax, a loyalist, held land in Virginia and fled to England during the Revolution. When he died in 1781, his land was left to his nephew Denny Martin. Then the following year, the original land grant was voided by the Virginia legislature and then transferred the land back to Virginia, who then granted a portion of this land to David Hunter. The Supreme Court ruled that Fairfax was entitled to give his land away, but the Virginia courts, where the suit arose, refused to follow the Supreme Court's decision. Virginia thought that their government was equal to the national government but it was soon brought to their attention that they in fact were not equivalent to the national government. With reasoning from the Constitution, Justice Story declared the Court's power to override state courts to secure a reliable system of law.

Constitutional Principle: Federalism

Significance: Shows the federal supremacy over state

Cohens vs Virginia

Year of Case: 1821

Summary: A lottery was authorized by Congress in Washington DC and the Cohen's brothers sold tickets in Virginia which is a violation of state law. The brothers were tried and convicted by the state authorities and they declared themselves the final arbiters of disputes between the states and the National government.

Constitutional Principle: Displayed Judicial review

Significance: The case showed the Supreme Court's right to review state court decisions in criminal law matters when Constitutional rights have been violated.

Dartmouth College vs Woodward

Year of Case: 1819

Summary: The New Hampshire legislature tried to change Dartmouth College into a state university when it was a privately funded institution in 1816. The control of appointments was transferred to the governor which changed the school's corporate charter. A lawsuit was filed against William H. Woodward because the old trustees became extremely angry and they wanted to regain control of the college. Woodward sided with the new appointees. In a 6-to-1 decision, the Court stated that the College's corporate charter qualified as a contract between private parties, and the legislature could not interfere. The fact that the government had commissioned the charter did not transform the school into a civil institution. Chief Justice Marshall's opinion emphasized that the term "contract" referred to transactions involving individual property rights, not to "the political relations between the government and its citizens."

Constitutional Principle: Marshall says the charter was a contract; “The Constitution protected contracts against state encroachments”.

Significance: The decision increased the power of the federal government over the states. It reaffirmed that the U.S. Supreme Court could invalidate state laws when it found those laws unconstitutional.

McColloch vs Maryland

Year of Case: 1816

Summary: The Supreme Court ruled that Congress had implied powers under the Necessary and Proper Clause of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution to create the Second Bank of the United States and that the state of Maryland lacked the power to tax of said bank.When the Bank's Baltimore branch refused to pay the tax, the state of Maryland sued James McCulloch, cashier of the branch, for collection of the debt.

Constitutional Principle: Upheld right for Congress to charter a National Bank, allowing for one large bank to rule the national debt and allowing for the National bank to distribute money.

Significance: The case strengthened the implied power’s clause and strengthened the federal government, allowing the three branches to have increased power over the states when there was a dispute regarding the United States Constitution.