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No political dreamer was ever wild enough to think of breaking down the lines which separate the States, and of compounding the American people into one common mass… John Marshall

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On his last day in office, President John Adams named forty-two justices of the peace and sixteen new circuit court justices for the District of Columbia in an attempt by the Federalists to take control of the federal judiciary before Thomas Jefferson took office. The commissions were signed by President Adams and sealed by acting Secretary of State John Marshall [Thomas Jefferson’s cousin (who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and author of this opinion)], but they were not delivered before the expiration of Adams’s term as president. Jefferson refused to honor the commissions, claiming that they were invalid because they had not been delivered by the end of Adams’s term. William Marbury (P) was an intended recipient of an appointment and applied to the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to compel Jefferson’s Secretary of State, James Madison (D), to deliver the commission.

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In 1803 – two years after Jefferson had been sworn in and Marbury had filed suit – the Supreme Court decided what looked at first blush to be a victory for Marbury. His appointment had been legal and he was entitled to his commission HOWEVER the Supreme Court does not have original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus THEREFORE application denied and Marbury didn’t get the commission. What got included in the decision was that the Supreme Court has the authority to review acts of Congress and determine whether they are unconstitutional and therefore void ALTHOUGH the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature and the Constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply. [Which is why Chief Justice Roger B. Taney was compelled to rule against Dred Scott.]

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The great decision : Jefferson, Adams, Marshall, and the battle for the Supreme Court Cliff Sloan and David McKean New York : PublicAffairs, c 2009 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xvii, 258 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 239-243) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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Following the bitterly contested election between Adams and Jefferson in 1800, the United States teetered on the brink of a second revolution. When Adams sought to prolong his policies in defiance of the electorate by packing the courts, it became evident that the new Constitution was limited in its powers. Change was in order and John Marshall stepped up to the challenge.

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The Great Decision tells the riveting story of Marshall and of the landmark court case, Marbury v. Madison, through which he empowered the Supreme Court and transformed the idea of the separation of powers into a working blueprint for our modern state. Rich in atmospheric detail, political intrigue, and fascinating characters, The Great Decision is an illuminating tale of America’s formative years and the evolution of our democracy.

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