“It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each.” 

Chief Justice John Marshall, speaking for a unanimous Court

This case explores the legal concepts of federalism, judicial review, and separation of powers/checks and balances.

At the end of President John Adams’ term, his secretary of state failed to deliver documents commissioning William Marbury as justice of the peace in the District of Columbia. Once President Thomas Jefferson was sworn in, he told James Madison, his secretary of state, not to deliver the documents to Marbury and others in order to keep members of the opposing political party from taking office. Marbury sued James Madison asking the Supreme Court to issue a writ requiring him to deliver the documents necessary to officially make Marbury justice of the peace. The Supreme Court chose not to answer Marbury’s question, but rather whether they had the jurisdiction to issue the writ. The Marbury v. Madison decision resulted in the establishment of the concept of judicial review.



This section is for teachers.

Use the links below to access:

  • student versions of the activities in .PDF and Word formats
  • how to differentiate and adapt the materials
  • how to scaffold the activities
  • how to extend the activities
  • technology suggestions
  • answers to select activities  

About the Case


Learning Activities

The Case

After the Case

 


Teacher Resources

Teaching Strategies Used

Landmark Cases Glossary

The LandmarkCases.org glossary compiles all of the important vocab terms from case materials. It is provided as a view-only Google Sheet.

Glossary

Planning Time and Activities

If you have one day . . .

  • Read the background summary (•••, ••, •) and answer the questions.
  • Complete Who Should Decide? activity.
  • Complete the Classifying Arguments Activity. Discuss which arguments the students find most convincing.
  • For homework, have students read the Key Excerpts from the Majority Opinion and answer the questions. Follow-up the next day by reviewing the questions with students.

If you have two days . . .

  • Complete all activities listed for the first day (excluding homework).
  • For advanced classes, complete The Power of the Judicial Branch. For on-level classes, complete Is the Judiciary Act of 1789 Constitutional?
  • Complete the Cartoon Analysis Activity.
  • For homework, have students read the Key Excerpts from the Majority Opinion and answer the questions. Follow-up the next day by reviewing the questions with students.

If you have three days . . .

  • Complete all activities listed for the first and second days.
  • On the third day, have students predict how different individuals, such as Republicans, may have reacted to the outcome. Complete the Thomas Jefferson's Reaction Activity.
  • Wrap up the discussion with So, What's the Big Idea???
  • For homework, have students complete Chief Justice John Marshall’s Legacy project.

If you have four days . . .

  • Complete all activities listed for the first, second, and third days (excluding homework).
  • On the fourth day, complete Mini-Moot Court Activity: United States v. Lopez (1995)
  • For homework, have students complete Chief Justice John Marshall’s Legacy project.
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