John Marshall (September 24, 1755 – July 6, 1835) was an American jurist and statesman who shaped American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court a center of power. Marshall was Chief Justice of the United States, serving from January 31, 1801, until his death in 1835. He served in the United States House of Representatives from March 4, 1799, to June 7, 1800, and was Secretary of State under President John Adams from June 6, 1800, to March 4, 1801. Marshall was from the Commonwealth of Virginia and a leader of the Federalist Party.
The longest serving Chief Justice in Supreme Court history, Marshall dominated the Court for over three decades (a term outliving his own Federalist Party) and played a significant role in the development of the American legal system. Most notably, he established that the federal courts are entitled to exercise judicial review, the power to strike down laws that violate the Constitution. Thus, Marshall cemented the position of the American judiciary as an independent and influential branch of government. Furthermore, the Marshall Court made several important decisions relating to federalism, shaping 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.
Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison, decided in 1803, ruled for the government (that is, Madison), by deciding a minor law passed by Congress was unconstitutional. Ironically what was unconstitutional was Congress' granting a certain power to the Supreme Court itself. The case allowed Marshall to proclaim the doctrine of judicial review, which reserves to the Supreme Court final authority to judge whether or not actions of the president or of the Congress are within the powers granted to them by the Constitution. The Constitution itself is the supreme law, and when the Court believes that a specific law or action is in violation of it, the Court must uphold the Constitution and set aside that other law or action.
The Constitution does not explicitly give judicial review to the Court, and Jefferson was very angry with Marshall's position, for he wanted the president to decide whether his acts were constitutional or not. Historians mostly agree that the Founding Fathers Constitution did plan for the Supreme Court to have some sort of judicial review; what Marshall did was make operational their goals. Judicial review was not new and Marshall himself mentioned it in the Virginia ratifying convention of 1788. Marshall's opinion expressed and fixed in the American tradition and legal system a more basic theory—government under law. That is, judicial review means a government in which no person (not even the president) and no institution (not even Congress), nor even a majority of voters, may freely work their will in violation of the written Constitution. Marshall himself never declared another law of Congress or act of a president unconstitutional.