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United States Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall
Bar key: Washington appointee • J. Adams appointee • Jefferson appointee • Madison appointee • Monroe appointee • J. Q. Adams appointee • Jackson appointee
Marshall took office during the final months of John Adams's presidency, and his appointment entrenched Federalist power within the judiciary. The Judiciary Act of 1801 also established several new court positions that were filled by President Adams, but the act was largely repealed after the Democratic-Republicans took control of the government in the 1800 elections. Regardless, Marshall was the last justice appointed by a president of the Federalist Party, and the last justice appointed by a president who was not a member of the Democratic-Republicans or Democratic Party until the 1840s. Although Democratic-Republicans had appointed a majority of the justices after 1811, Marshall's philosophy of a relatively strong national government continued to guide the decisions of the Supreme Court until his death. The Democratic-Republicans attempted to impeach Justice Chase for overtly campaigning for John Adams's re-election, possibly impeding the independence of the Supreme Court, but the attempt failed after defections from within the party. Marshall's philosophy differed dramatically from that of some of his contemporaries outside the court, including Spencer Roane, who wrote a series of essays arguing that state courts should have the final say in most matters. Marshall's domination of the courts ensured that the federal government would retain relatively strong powers, despite the political domination of Jeffersonians after 1800. Marshall's opinions also helped to reinforce the independent power of the Supreme Court as a check on Congress, and laid some of the philosophical foundations of the Whig Party, which arose in the 1830s. Due to the Marshall Court's many accomplishments, President Adams referred to his appointment of Marshall as the "proudest act of his life."
Rulings of the Court
The Marshall Court issued several major rulings during its tenure, including:
Marbury v. Madison (1803): In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Marshall, the court struck down Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, since it extended the court's original jurisdiction beyond what was established in Article III of the United States Constitution. In so doing, the court held that a law written by Congress was unconstitutional, firmly establishing the Supreme Court's power of judicial review. Although judicial review had a long history in American and British thought, Marbury was nonetheless extremely important for establishing the Supreme Court's independence and ability to strike down laws of Congress that it deemed unconstitutional.
Fletcher v. Peck (1810): In an opinion written by Chief Justice Marshall, the court held that the state of Georgia had violated the Contract Clause by voiding land grants in the Yazoo lands that had been influenced by bribery. The case marked the first time that the court struck down a state law as unconstitutional.
Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1817): In an opinion written by Justice Story, the court held that it had held appellate power over state courts in regards to the United States Constitution and federal laws and treaties. The Supreme Court would again uphold this principle in Cohens v. Virginia (1821).
Gibbons v. Ogden (1824): In an opinion written by Chief Justice Marshall, the court struck down a New York law that had granted a monopoly on steamship operation in the state of New York. In its decision, the court upheld Congress's ability to regulate commerce under the Commerce Clause.
Barron v. Baltimore (1833): In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Marshall, the court held that the Bill of Rights does not apply to the actions of state governments. The decision would later be largely overruled by the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment and subsequent Supreme Court decisions.