John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court [POLICYbrief]
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John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court [POLICYbrief]


John Marshall was the fourth Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court. He came onto a court which lacked energy,
weight, and dignity. Those are the words of the first Chief Justice,
John Jay. But after Marshall was Chief Justice for 34
years, no one would ever say that again. America needed a judicial armature to support
it. It needed legal rulings in favor of the binding
power of contracts and in favor of a national market, and those were supplied by the Marshall
Court. Marshall changed the court in a number of
ways. I think the first was his geniality. Marshall liked people and people liked him,
and this helped him hugely in herding all the cats who were his fellow justices on the
Supreme Court. He strengthened the Court. He issued unanimous opinions, often delivered
by him, sometimes by fellow justices. Marshall built consensus on the Supreme Court
in several ways. He did it through deference to the opinions
of fellow justices when they happened to know more about particular areas of the law than
he did. Another factor in Marshall’s leadership of
the court was that he was always the smartest man in the room. His intelligence was slow moving. It wasn’t quick. It took him a while to get going. But when he did get going, he was almost implacable. He also laid down a pattern for judicial interpretation. The two tools he used were to follow the words
of the Constitution or to consider the intentions of the Framers when they wrote those words. What problems were they trying to solve? What dangers were they anticipating? He used an originalism of words and an originalism
of intentions, and those were his techniques for 34 years. The case we all learned about in school was
Marbury versus Madison in 1803, in which the Court strikes down a portion of a law passed
by Congress. This is the Judiciary Act of 1789. What was striking about Marbury was that it
was a 9,000-word decision, about 8,500 words of which were a lecture to the Jefferson Administration
saying, “No, we’re not going to give it to William Marbury because the law under which
he has appealed is, in fact, unconstitutional, but, shame on you.” The one time that Marshall dissented on a
case of constitutional import was a case involving bankruptcy law. The name of the case was Ogden v. Saunders. This case involved the contract clause of
the Constitution, Article One, Section 10. This was one of the most important clauses
in Marshall’s mind. In Fletcher v. Peck, he had called the contract
clause “A Bill of Rights for the people of the states.” Not the first 10 amendments, not freedom of
speech or freedom of the press or no warrantless searches, but Article One, Section 10, prohibiting
states from impairing the obligation of contracts. Marshall got in a lot of trouble for his opinions
on supremacy when he was arguing the supremacy of federal courts over state courts or of
state legislatures. Fletcher v. Peck struck down a law passed
by Georgia. Dartmouth v. Woodward struck down a law passed
by New Hampshire. McCullough v. Maryland struck down a law passed
by Maryland. Osborn v. Bank of the United States struck
down a law of Ohio. When Marshall was in his groove, he writes
at length. His famous opinions are 8,000, 9,000, 10,000
words long. His opinion on the law of treason in the treason
trial of Aaron Burr was 25,000 words long. When he read Marbury v. Madison aloud, it
took him three hours to get through the whole opinion. One of the lawyers before the Supreme Court,
William Ward, who would later become Attorney General, said that Marshall’s mind was like
the Atlantic Ocean. Everybody else’s minds were like ponds. John Marshall dies in 1835, and over the next
25 years, the Supreme Court loses a lot of prestige. The second law passed by Congress the Supreme
Court strikes down is in the Dred Scott decision in 1857 when the Supreme Court overturns the
Missouri Compromise. This is an important step towards the Civil
War, and after Chief Justice Roger Taney, the man who wrote that decision died, Senator
Charles Sumner said that judicial baseness had reached its nadir in that decision. If Taney had not been preceded by John Marshall
and his court, perhaps the Supreme Court might never have recovered its prestige.

6 Comments

  • Darrell McClanahan 111

    What's up with the other two videos you tried to post YouTube doesn't like the diversity of the founding fathers or the idea that the change of the Constitution or to bind government the Constitution is the law of the land and these people hate it they have become Publishers not a platform we must start filing lawsuits against them

  • Sihar Tobing

    Very Good To Remembering The Founding Supreme Courth By Sir Mr John Marrshal 1802 – 1937 (R.I.P.) The US Country, ….. God Bless Sir, …… Cherrio02*Win*.👍👍👍.

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