|Order served on Secretary of State James Madison by the U.S. Supreme Court, March 22, 1802|
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In March 1801, in the final days of his administration, President John Adams appointed William Marbury as Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia, but the Secretary of State, John Marshall, failed to deliver it. When the incoming Secretary of State, James Madison, refused to deliver Marbury’s commission, Marbury sued to obtain it. He asked the Supreme Court to order Madison to deliver the commission.
John Marshall, who became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1801, wrote the landmark decision. The Court’s opinion declared the law that authorized the Supreme Court to act on Marbury’s behalf to be unconstitutional. Never before had the Supreme Court exercised its authority to declare an act of Congress to be unconstitutional. With this ruling on an apparently trivial matter, Marshall set the course for the judiciary to be a coequal branch of government.
This document bears the marks of the Capitol fire of 1898.
National Archives, Records of the Supreme Court of the United States