SUPREME COURT OPINIONS: The Marshall Court (1801 - 1835)


OOOOFor each opinion, the author's name name is given first and in full, the following justices joining in the opinion. Concurring or separate opinions are those which agree with the result of the Court's opinion but differ with the reasoning, larger implications, or simply wish to add an aspect not touched on by the Court. Dissenting opinions, of course, are those which disagree with the Court's ruling. There may even be several dissenting opinions, depending on the nature of the several justices' disagreement.

1803 Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803)
Opinion: Chief Justice John Marshall

OOOBy holding part of the Judiciary Act of 1789 contrary to the U.S. Constitution, the Court established it's right to rule on the constitutionality of federal law, i.e., "judicial review".

1810 Fletcher v. Peck, 10 U.S. 87 (1810)
Opinion: Chief Justice John Marshall

OOOThe Court held that Georgia's repeal of a law authorizing the sale of state lands was a violation of Art.1, sec. 10, of the Constitution which states, "No state shall...pass any...ex post facto law, or law impairing the Obligation of Contracts". Marshall's opinion stated that Georgia could not make illegal retroactively what had been legal at the time of its occurance (i.e. the original sale) nor could it unilaterally void a contract it had already entered into and completed. The decision established the 1) sovereignty of the Constitution over the states and 2) the constitutional basis for the sanctity of contracts.

Dissenting: Justice Johnson

1816 Martin v. Hunters Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816)]
Opinion: Justice Joseph Story

OOOIn a case involving the Virginia Court of Appeals' refusal to recognize the superior jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court, Story wrote that the Supreme Court, both constitutionally and by the Judiciary Act, did indeed have appellate power over state court decisions. The Constitution, he wrote, is the supreme law of the land, and the Supreme Court is its final expositor.

Concurring: Justice Johnson

1819 McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819)
Opinion: Chief Justice John Marshall (Unanimous)

OOOMaryland's attempt to tax a bank chartered by the federal government was held unconstitutional. Marshall wrote, "The result is a conviction that the States have no power, by taxation or otherwise, to retard, impede, burden, or in any manner control the operations of the constitutional laws enacted by Congress to carry into execution the powers vested in the General Government. This is, we think, the unavoidable consequence of that supremacy which the Constitution has declared." The decision also widened the ambit of the "necessary and proper" clause of Art. 1, sec. 8 of the Constitution, giving Congress broad powers to pass laws within its competence and powers.

1819 Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. 518 (1819)
Opinion: Chief Justice John Marshall

OOOAs in Fletcher, this case also overturns a state's impairment of a contract. What makes Dartmouth College interesting is Marshall's decision that the right attached to the contract in question — the charter originally establishing the college — was not vested in a person or persons, but in the corporation which the charter established. The decision was instrumental in establishing corporations as quasi-persons with certain constitutional rights.

Concurring: Justice Joseph Story
Dissenting: Justice Duvall

1824 Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1 (1824)
Chief Justice John Marshall

OOOThe case turns on the constitutionality of a law passed by the state of New York which granted the inventor of the steam boat, Robert Fulton, the exclusive right to operate steam boats in New York ports. Ogden, who acquired the Fulton franchise, sought an injuction against Gibbons, who also operated steam boats in New York ports, for infringment of his perogative, and won. Gibbons counter-sued. Marshall decided that, as Gibbons boats were licensed under an act of Congress to carry on the "coastal trade", and since its route and cargo were part of that trade, and since the act fell within Congress' commerce power, and since that power was supreme over any state law, that the state law was unconstitutional and void. Gibbons is one of the first statements of the "commerce power", a foundation on which the vast structure of modern federal regulation is built.

1833 Barron v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 32 U.S. 243 (1833)
Chief Justice John Marshall

OOOThe original action was brought by Barron against the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore for damage done to his property in the course of legitimate city improvements. Among Barron's charges were that the damage was an unlawful taking of private property and so unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment. As in Marbury, Marshall ruled that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction because, other than those limitations placed on states in Art 1. secs 9 & 10, the Constitution, including the first ten amendments, or the Bill of Rights, did not apply to the states but only to the federal government. Marshall's ruling would stand until the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868, which began the slow evolution of the Bill of Rights' application to the actions of the states - an evolution as yet incomplete.