The Great Decision

October 3rd, 2009 | by Sqotty |

The Great Decision by Cliff Sloan and David McKean is a highly engaging book about the early days of the United States and the Supreme Court. It is more than an analysis of the decision in Marbury v. Madison; it is a history of the early days of Washington D.C., the final days of the Adams Administration and the beginnings of the Jefferson Administration.

Sloan and McKean set up the background for Marbury v. Madison by illustrating the development of our nation’s capital, from ground breaking to the first buildings and the surrounding environs. They then paint a picture of the political landscape as Adams, the Federalist, loses the 1800 election to Jefferson, the Republican-Democrat, the rise of Jefferson’s party, and the decline of the Federalists. Politics in these early days were just as heated as today’s politics, with the newspapers of the land choosing one side or the other.

The stage is set when, after the election of 1800, and before Adams’ term expires when the Federalists, while still in control of Congress, passed the Judiciary Act of 1801. Adams then spends his final days filling the many new judicial appointments, creating what is known today as the “Midnight Judges”. At this time Adams also appointed John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Tensions rise as Marbury, et. al., file suit against James Madison, the newly appointed Secretary of State, requesting that teh Supreme Court force Madison to deliver up to them their commissions of Justices of the Peace in the District of Columbia. Shortly there after, before the Supreme court can hear the case, the now Republican (as the authors referred to it) controlled Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1802, which, in effect, canceled out the Judiciary Act of 1801, revoking many of the new courts (circuit courts) created in the previous year. It also canceled the Supreme Court sessions until February 1803.

When at last the Supreme Court did convene, they shocked the nation by asserting that the Supreme Court had the power to decide if a law is constitution or null and void. This is the crux of Marbury v Madison and the Great Decision.

The book is worth reading for many reasons, not just for the understanding of how the Supreme Court became the final arbiter of what the law is, but for the historical backdrop and the various players that all played a role in the early days of our government and the Supreme Court. Sloan and McKean created one heckuva good read.

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