| An 1803 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established the court as the final authority on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution is the topic as Justice John M. Greaney addresses the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.
Greaney joined Suffolk University Law School this month as director of the Macaronis Institute for Trial and Appellate Advocacy following his retirement from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
He will discuss Marbury v. Madison, a case that many scholars believe was wrongly decided. Yet, in giving the Supreme Court of the United States the status to declare acts of the president and Congress unconstitutional, it has had far-reaching implications.
Without the Marbury ruling, the Supreme Court would not have ruled as it did in Brown v. Board of Education, said Greaney, and racial segregation might still be rampant.
The Marbury decision also affected some significant First Amendment cases in which different outcomes would have restricted freedom of the press.
It all began with the politics of lame-duck President John Adams, who intended to appoint a number of justices following his defeat by Thomas Jefferson. His secretary of state, John Marshall, signed the appropriate documents and sent his brother to deliver them.
All but 17 appointees had received their commissions by the time Thomas Jefferson took office. Jefferson’s administration refused to acknowledge those 17, including William Marbury, who brought his case directly to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, John Marshall had been named chief justice, and, given that he and his brother were directly involved in the issue at had, should have recused himself, said Greaney.
Instead, in Marshall’s opinion, he wrote: "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."