Marbury v. Madison and Judicial Review

Robert Lowry Clinton

Few Supreme Court decisions are as well known or loom as large in our nation's history as Marbury v. Madison. The 1803 decision is widely viewed as having established the doctrine of judicial review, which permits the Court to overturn acts of Congress that violate the Constitution; moreover, such judicial decisions are final, not subject to further appeal.

Robert Clinton contends that few decisions have been more misunderstood, or misused, in the debates over judicial review. He argues that the accepted view of Marbury is ahistorical and emerges from nearly a century of misinterpretation both by historians and by legal scholars.

“This book is without doubt one of the half dozen recent works that will be central to the scholarly dispute about judicial review.”

Political Science Quarterly

“Clinton offers a resounding correction of the prevailing orthodoxy on the Marbury case that has dominated scholarship in law, history, and political science for roughly the last century. . . . If he contended only ‘that Marbury was not a political decision but was based on sound constitutional doctrine and existing legal precedent’, this book would still make a quite valuable contribution to the literature. . . . But there is more: the constitutional doctrine and legal precedents Clinton has rediscovered, in which the Marbury ruling is firmly grounded, reveal judicial review to be . . . of profoundly narrower scope than is admitted today by right or left, by originalists or nonoriginalists. . . . Clinton has done [much] to blow away a good deal of fog surrounding Marshall, Marbury, and the scope of judicial power.”

Review of Politics
See all reviews...

About the Author

Robert Clinton is associate professor of political science at Southern Illinois University and is a Fulbright Fellow for 1991-1992.