U. S. Supreme Court: the Marshall Years, 1801-1835

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John Marshall (September 24, 1755 – July 6, 1835) was the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (1801–1835). His court opinions helped lay the basis for United States constitutional law and many say made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches. Previously, Marshall had been a leader of the Federalist Party in Virginia and served in the United States House of Representatives from 1799 to 1800. He was Secretary of State under President John Adams from 1800 to 1801.

The longest-serving Chief Justice and the fourth longest-serving justice in U.S. Supreme Court history, Marshall dominated the Court for over three decades and played a significant role in the development of the American legal system. Most notably, he reinforced the principle that federal courts are obligated to exercise judicial review, by disregarding purported laws if they violate the constitution. Thus, Marshall cemented the position of the American judiciary as an independent and influential branch of government. Furthermore, Marshall's court made several important decisions relating to federalism, affecting the balance of power between the federal government and the states during the early years of the republic. In particular, he repeatedly confirmed the supremacy of federal law over state law, and supported an expansive reading of the enumerated powers.

Some of his decisions were unpopular. Nevertheless, Marshall built up the third branch of the federal government, and augmented federal power in the name of the Constitution, and the rule of law. Marshall, along with Daniel Webster (who argued some of the cases), was the leading Federalist of the day, pursuing Federalist Party approaches to build a stronger federal government over the opposition of the Jeffersonian Republicans, who wanted stronger state governments. Source: Wikipedia, 2016/06/28

The dockets of the U. S. Supreme Court for the Marshall years are available from this site beginning at: [1]

The minutes of the U. S. Supreme Court for the Marshall years are available from this site beginning at: [2]

Perhaps the most perceptive, if perhaps a bit too laudatory, of the commentaries concerning John Marshall and the justices who served with him is to be found in remarks given by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1901 which were quoted in a review of the Haskins/Johnson volume of the Oliver Wendell Holmes devise by District Court Judge Louis H. Pollak in 1982 (University of Pennsylvania Law Review, vol. 131:486-487):

If I were to think of John Marshall simply by number and measure in the abstract, I might hesitate in my superlatives, just as I should hesitate over the battle of the Brandywine if I thought of it apart from its place in the line of historic cause. But such thinking is empty in the same proportion that it is abstract. It is most idle to take a man apart from the circumstances which, in fact, were his. To be sure, it is easier in fancy to separate a person from his riches than from his character. But it is just as futile. Remove a square inch of mucous membrane, and the tenor will sing no more. Remove a little cube from the brain, and the orator will be speechless; or another, and the brave, generous and profound spirit becomes a timid and querulous trifler. A great man represents a great ganglion in the nerves of society, or, to vary the figure, a strategic point in the campaign of history, and part of his greatness consists in his being there. I no more can separate John Marshall from the fortunate circumstance that the appointment of Chief Justice fell to John Adams, instead of to Jefferson a month later, and so gave it to a Federalist and loose constructionist to start the working of the constitution, than I can separate the black line through which he sent his electric fire at Fort Wagner from Colonel Shaw. When we celebrate Marshall we celebrate at the same time and indivisibly the inevitable fact that the oneness of the nation and the supremacy of the national Constitution were declared to govern the dealings of man with man by the judgments and decrees of the most august of courts.

The dockets of the U. S. Supreme Court for the Marshall years are available from this site beginning at: [3]

The minutes of the U. S. Supreme Court for the Marshall years are available from this site beginning at: [4]

To better understand the internal workings of the Marshall Court, see:

[Herbert A. Johnson, "Introduction: The Business of the Court," in Foundations of Power: John Marshall, 1801-15, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1978, pp. 373-664. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0ByACveTTZ5jWc1NGM1g4QTlJVFk]

G. Edward White, "The Working Life of the Marshall Court, 1815-1835," Virginia Law Review, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb. 1984), pp. 1-52.

For thoughtful evaluations of the decisions of the Marshall Court, see:

Keith E. Whittington, "Judicial Review of Congress Before the Civil War," The Georgetown Law Journal, Vol 97, (2009), pp. 1257-1331.

Michael J. Klarman, "How Great Were the "Great" Marshall Court Decisions?," Virginia Law Review, Vol. 87, No. 6 (Oct., 2001), pp. 1111-1184.