In Marbury v. Madison, frankly the facts and case itself are consigned to history. Not to say the case itself was unimportant, but it answered the question presented and moved on. Instead, Marbury v. Madison is important because of its role in creating the Supreme Court as it is known today.
In the early years of governance under the Constitution, a couple of things were true in regard to the Court. The government was shifting from a confederacy where the power was with the States to a Federal system with a strong legislature for governance. This meant the Supreme Court was limited in the right to hear cases and due to certain laws focused more on appeals as of right. This meant, there was, going into Marbury v. Madison, a question of the extent of the Supreme Court’s powers in relation to the other branches of government.
As was common under Chief Justice John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and one of the most influential Chief Justices on the Supreme Court, the decision was unanimous. The Chief Justice declared “[i]t is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”
This is the role of the courts, taken to heart and present in every decision currently handed down by the Supreme Court. The power to say what the law is. This authority allows the courts to strike down legislation, to provide tests for understand laws, and to interpret laws as broadly or narrowly as necessary. All in the role of saying what the law is.
Perhaps we don’t agree with the Justices saying what the law is. At times, these Justices have said the wrong law, after all there are lists upon lists of the worst decisions made by the Supreme Court. The Justices are only human and they do their job as professionally and competently as possible. Regardless of the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court, the purpose of the decisions has always returned to Marbury v. Madison.
The Judiciary says what the law is.