Before vacating the Oval Office in March 1801, John Adams appointed a number of Federalists to judicial openings in an attempt to handicap President-elect Thomas Jefferson's incoming Democratic-Republican Administration. But because Adams' Secretary of State, John Marshall, failed to deliver all of the appointees' commissions, and because Jefferson subsequently directed his new Secretary of State, James Madison, not to deliver the remaining notices a number of employees were unable to assume their new positions.
One frustrated appointee, Federalist William Marbury, petitioned the Supreme Court to force Madison to deliver his commission. On Feb. 23, 1803, the court handed down a unanimous decision that Madison was not required to deliver the agreement because the law requiring such action the Judiciary Act of 1789 conflicted with a piece of the Constitution. Marshall, by that time Chief Justice, argued that the Judiciary Act was unconstitutional and therefore void, thus establishing the basis for judicial review and solidifying the role of checks and balances in American government.
Date Decided: February 23, 1803
Chief Justice Presiding: John Marshall
Vote Split: 4-0.