Happy 216th Birthday, Marbury v. Madison, February 24, 1803


Mr. Chief Justice John Marshall delivered the opinion of the Court, writing, in part,

The question whether an act repugnant to the Constitution can become the law of the land is a question deeply interesting to the United States, but, happily, not of an intricacy proportioned to its interest. It seems only necessary to recognise certain principles . …

[T]here is no middle ground. The Constitution is either a superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and, like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it.

If the former part of the alternative be true, then a legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law; if the latter part be true, then written Constitutions are absurd attempts on the part of the people to limit a power in its own nature illimitable. …

It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is.


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