A History of the Early Assertion of Judicial Power

841 Words4 Pages
A History of the Early Assertion of Judicial Power

Once upon a time there were several men planning out the best way to divide the power in a fledgling new country. Some of them wanted one big power, and others wanted three smaller ones where the power was roughly equally divided. Eventually they went with the idea of the three powers and everyone appeared to be relatively content with that. However, the two bigger and “more important” powers, the Executive and Legislative, started getting quite power-hungry and way too big. The smaller, last power, the Judicial, started getting a little bit jealous of the other two--until a man by the name of John Marshall and his friends, the Federalists, got ahold of Judicial and turned everything around.

The Constitution of the United States of America did not do much by way of outlining the powers held by the Supreme Court. Judicial power was the very last of the three main branches of government to be specified. In the early days of the Court’s power, it was left up to the justices to assert their power and flex their political muscles. Especially in the term of John Marshall was the judiciary power defined and enforced to lay down the foundation for the trends in the Supreme Court still observed today.

It was in the early days of America that the Court heard those cases which would first define their judicial power. In 1803 it began with the case of William Marbury v. James Madison. According to the United States Constitution, the Supreme Court could take only those cases of appellate jurisdiction, which came on appeals, the only exception being those cases involving foreign diplomats and ambassadors. During Marbury v. Madison (a case of original jurisdiction), Federalist John Marshall was the Chief Justice and Anti-Federalist Thomas Jefferson was the President. The case revolved around Marbury--also a Federalist-- not receiving his commission to serve as justice of the peace because James Madison, Jefferson’s Secretary of State, never delivered it. Marshall knew that if he ordered the writ of mandamus to be issued, Jefferson’s administration would simply choose to ignore it. Therefore, he cunningly planned his decision out, knowing that although in the short term it was an injury to the Federalists, in the long run it would help assert the Court’s power and ability to accept or reject cases.

More about A History of the Early Assertion of Judicial Power

Open Document