AP US: John Marshall as Chief Justice (1801-1835)

John Marshall

  • he contributes to the era of nationalism with the idea of "Judicial Nationalism"; that is, he increases the power of the federal government through judicial decisions
  • appointed by John Adams at the end of the Federalist era, and he serves for 34 years, keeping the Federalist ideas alive
  • writes over 500 decisions, with a goal of strengthening the federal government
  • establishes the prestige of the judiciary branch
  • he is considered by many to be the greatest Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
  • first, he needs to establish the power of the Court
    • Article III of the Constitution creates one Supreme Court and other federal courts that Congress deems necessary; however, it doesn't specify the power of these courts
    • Jay, the 1st Chief Justice, played the role of an ambassador

Marbury v. Madison (1803)

  • establishes the concept of "judicial review"
    • the Court has the right to declare acts of Congress and of the executive branch to be unconstitutional, null and void
    • if Congress or the President has overstepped their role as defined in the Constitution, the Court can reject their actions
  • William Marbury was one of the "midnight judges" who were appointed by Adams as he was leaving office
  • his commission was not delivered before Adams left, and it was being held on the desk of Secretary of State Madison, who refused to deliver it
  • he applied to the Court for a writ of mandamus to compel Madison to deliver the commission
  • Marshall's decision says that the Jefferson administration is being petty in these matters, but that the Court doesn't have the power to force delivery of the commissions
  • says that part of the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional, that is, that Congress cannot extend the power of the Court beyond what is defined in the Constitution
  • he establishes the precedent of the Court's ability to void laws that challenge the Constitution
  • the Court will not overturn another Congressional law until 1857, showing that this is not a power play to gain another veto in the system; rather, it is a legitimate attempt to clarify the role of the Court

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)

  • he also feels a need to clarify the Court's position in respect to the other branches of government
  • he puts the Constitution over all, clarifying the Supremacy Clause
  • this case goes back to the argument over the First National Bank and the implied powers clause
  • the state of Maryland had decided to tax the Baltimore branch of the Bank of the United States, but the bank refused to pay the tax
  • this raises the questions of the constitutionality of the creation of the bank and of the ability of the states to tax institutions of the federal government
  • Marshall's decision supports "loose construction"
    • if the end is legitimate and the means are not denied by the Constitution, the action is allowed
    • he supports the creation of the bank, as it was needed to tax, control currency, etc.
  • Marshall also states that the power to tax is the power to destroy
    • therefore, if states can tax federal government, then they can ultimately destroy the federal government
    • thus, he bans states from taxing institutions of the federal government
    • eventually, this issue will be worked out with "lulu payments"; that is, the federal government pays the state a fixed amount to compensate for the use of the state's land, which can have been used as a source of revenue via taxes

Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)

  • Marshall declares that Congress alone, not the states, has the right to regulate interstate commerce
  • this is the first decision under the commerce clause of the Constitution
  • two steamboat operators had been given a charter to operate in New York Harbour, one from the federal government, and one is a monopoly grant from the state
  • Marshall states that, even in the absence of legislation, the federal government alone can regulate interstate commerce
    • asserts the strength of the federal government - he's an old-time Federalist

Fletcher v. Peck (1810)

  • he also protects the rights of property against actions of state legislatures that seemed too radical
  • the Georgia state legislature had sold land to a private speculator for bribes, and the public reacted by voting out the incumbents, electing a new legislature that voided the previous agreement
  • Marshall declares that the contract was binding, even though it was illegally obtained, because the Constitution declared all contracts to be legally binding
  • declares that the federal government had the right to set a side the law of a state legislature if it conflicts with the Constitution of federal laws or treaties
  • upholds the "ladder of law"

Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819)

  • deals with events prior to the adoption of the Constitution, asking whether contracts and agreements from the time before the Constitution were valid
  • in 1769, Dartmouth College was granted a charter for establishment
  • in 1816, the New Hampshire legislature took over Dartmouth, and the board of the college sued
  • the Court declared that the contract was still valid, as it falls within the contract clause of the Constitution
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