Polemics & Exchanges

On Marbury v. Madison

A college friend of mine once said that, when she walked out of her last American-history final, she thought she would never again have to wonder what all the fuss was about Marbury v. Madison.  So when I saw Marshall DeRosa’s piece “Marbury v. Madison: The Beginning of Sorrows” (Views, May), I thought I would learn more about the fuss.  I was disappointed, however, that Professor DeRosa didn’t make at all clear what the case was about.  Marbury v. Madison is not concerned with states’ rights, as Professor DeRosa asserts, but with a much more prestigious game: Which of the three branches of the federal government has ultimate authority in interpreting the Constitution?  Justice Marshall’s tour de force was in using an apparently trivial matter involving the commission of several minor judicial officials to expand hugely and enduringly the powers of the Supreme Court.

I would also have been interested in getting Professor DeRosa’s take on the contradiction at the heart of Marshall’s decision.  On the one hand, he declared the Supreme Court to be the ultimate arbiter of a law’s compliance with the Constitution.  On the other, he cited that same declaration as the basis of the Court’s authority...

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