This was the first time that the Supreme Court had deemed a law unconstitutional, and in fact this power of the Court had not even really been established until it was used in this case. Its establishment, however, was to have profound effects on the judicial branchs power over the legislative and executive branches, especially in making sure that the restrictions of the Constitution were maintained despite — and in fact precisely in reaction to — attempts to legally surmount them through legislative acts or executive orders, as Marshalls words make clear (SCHS 2010).
Current Use of Judicial Review in Policy Making
The Supreme Court cannot exercise its power of judicial review until a case is brought to the Court, either through a direct filing (which is rare) or through appeals from lower federal or state courts. Any law or executive action could, however, come under the purview of the Supreme Court, at least theoretically, and be struck down as unconstitutional. This position as the final arbiter and interpreter of the highest body of law in the land has led some to claim that the federal government is actually poorly balanced, with the judicial branch — specifically the Supreme Court — holding far more power over the executive and legislative branches of the federal government than these branches do over the Court (Saikowski 1987).
While it might be true that the Supreme Court and the entire judicial branch of the federal government is more effective at limiting the powers of the executive and legislative branches than vice versa, it should be noted that this process of judicial review is one of the only ways in which the federal courts truly can influence policy in the United States, as the courts are entirely unable to create laws or to enforce them without a case first being brought to the court through a conscious and purposeful petition (Saikowski 1987).
The interpretation of laws can also affect policy, but the majority of this effect is still found in the courts ability to negate certain portions of law when it is found to be in conflict with a higher body of law, even the Constitution in the case of the Supreme Court (Saikowski 1987). This makes the precedent set by the decision in Marbury v. Madison hugely important in its ramifications though the ages, and it is still reverberating in the halls and actions of the federal government even in our own modern times.
The federal government continues to evolve, and the Supreme Courts practice of judicial review continues to play an important part in this evolution. From declaring warrantless wiretaps illegal to deciding the outcomes of presidential elections, the role and tasks of the Supreme Court and the process of judicial review have very real and very direct effects on the operations and perspectives of the federal government. As changes to the Courts make-up loom, it is hoped that its importance is remembered.
Saikowski, C. (1987). “The power of judicial review.” Christian Science Monitor. Accessed 12 April 2010. http://www.csmonitor.com/1987/0211/zcon4.html
Supreme Court Historical Society. (2010). “Landmark cases: Marbury v. Madison.” Accessed 12 April 2010. http://www.landmarkcases.org/marbury/home.html.