This Day in History, February 24, 2022 – “Judicial Review”

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It was just 219 years ago today, February 24, 1803, when the Supreme Court upheld the Constitution of the United States as not the primary law, but governing this nation, and at the same time making arguably the strongest judiciary of the three. The case was very small as to what would change our nation and the role of the Supreme Court and the power of judicial review. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were best friends and enemies.

this day in history signals February 24

Chief Justice John Marshall, a very interesting character. Image courtesy of Wikicommons, public domain.

On Adam’s last night as president, he made several appointments that would carry over into Jefferson’s tenure, upsetting him, understandably. In fact, these appointments were called the “Midnight Judges”, and one man, William Marbury, was counted among them. However, poor old Marbury did not receive his nomination and Jefferson refused to hand it over, telling his new Secretary of State, James Madison, to simply ignore the beggar.

With lots of harrumphs and chic, I’m sure there were also long windy sentences thrown in for good measure, Marbury managed to take his case against Madison all the way to the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice John Marshall was destined to settle the case. In the end, the Supreme Court managed to do some fancy work on the feet and the dress. Although Marbury was correct, the Court said that the current laws that would allow them to force Madison to surrender the documents were not actually based on the Constitution and therefore the law was the one that actually violated it. Thus, the Supreme Court could not force Madison to turn over the nomination papers, as the Supreme Court interpreted that there was nothing in the Constitution that gave them that power.

Ultimately, Marshal established judicial review, which is really a fancy term for the belief that the Supreme Court can decide what is legal or not based on the Constitution of the United States, their interpretation of course. Ultimately, it’s not what Congress or the President says and does, but what the Supreme Court says the Constitution allows the US government to do. Basically, ladies and gentlemen, the Supreme Court is really, really supreme over this nation, and so we have so much “legislation by the bench,” where the Supreme Court makes laws, instead of the legislature. 219 years ago today, serious things happened, and it still affects us massively today, imagine that.

PS, real power comes from the consent of the governed, which is you and me, so don’t let those nine people in togas scare you too much.

What happened yesterday, February 23?


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