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POLB30H3 Study Guide - Midterm Guide: William Marbury, Ginger Beer, Federalist No. 78

Political Science
Course Code
Margaret Kohn
Study Guide

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POLB30: Reading Notes + Film Notes
Week #2:
Case study: Amistad
o Definition:
In 1839, fifty-three illegally purchased African slaves being
transported from Cuba on the ship Amistad managed to
seize control of the vessel. They killed two crew members and
ordered the remainder to head for Africa. But by altering
course at night, when the position of the sun did not reveal
the ship’s course, they sailed in a northeasterly direction.
Eventually, the Amistad was intercepted by an American brig
off the coast of Long Island. The two Spaniards who had
enslaved the Africans were freed by the Americans, and the
slaves were imprisoned. President Martin Van Buren, along
with many newspaper editors, favored extraditing the
Africans to Cuba. But abolitionists and other northern
sympathizers won an American trial for them.
At a hearing in Hartford, a federal district court judge ruled
that the Africans were not liable for their actions because
they had been enslaved illegally. The case then proceeded
on appeal to the Supreme Court, where former
president John Quincy Adams, defending the Africans,
argued that they should be granted their freedom. The Court
agreed, ruling that since the international slave trade was
illegal, persons escaping should be recognized as free under
American law.
o Significance:
It influenced the abolitionist movement and proved that
many influential people in the United States were in favor of
abolishing slavery on the whole
o Argument of John Quincy Adams before the Supreme Court of the
United States (1841)
o Amistad
Week #3:
Case study: Marbury v. Madison
o Definition:
In Marbury v. Madison (1803) the Supreme Court announced
for the first time the principle that a court may declare an
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act of Congress void if it is inconsistent with the Constitution.
William Marbury had been appointed a justice of the peace
for the District of Columbia in the final hours of the Adams
administration. When James Madison, Thomas Jefferson’s
secretary of state, refused to deliver Marbury’s commission,
Marbury, joined by three other similarly situated appointees,
petitioned for a writ of mandamus compelling delivery of the
Chief Justice John Marshall, writing for a unanimous Court,
denied the petition and refused to issue the writ. Although he
found that the petitioners were entitled to their commissions,
he held that the Constitution did not give the Supreme
Court the power to issue writs of mandamus. Section 13 of
the Judiciary Act of 1789 provided that such writs might be
issued, but that section of the act was inconsistent with the
Constitution and therefore invalid.
Although the immediate effect of the decision was to deny
power to the Court, its long-run effect has been to increase
the Court’s power by establishing the rule that ‘it is
emphatically the province and duty of the judicial
department to say what the law is.’ Since Marbury v.
Madison the Supreme Court has been the final arbiter of the
constitutionality of congressional legislation.
o Significance:
The significance of Marbury v. Madison is that the ruling in
that case gave the Supreme Court of the United States the
power of judicial review. Judicial review is the power to
determine whether a law passed by a legislature (in this case,
Congress) is constitutional. In Marbury, the Supreme Court
took the power to declare that laws passed by Congress
were null and void if they (in the Court’s opinion) violated the
o Federalist 78 “Is judicial review a threat to democracy?”
TLDR: This article focuses on how the constitution is necessary
in democracy because it maintains “good behavior” within
the various levels of power. If the constitution did not exist, it
would allow a sense of overriding and collusion between
various types of power. An example of this is within England
and how the courts are divided. It allows judges to decide
what the constitution entails, versus in the states where the
people hold more power than the judicial and legislative
together. Courts are made as a middle ground, not a
deciding ground.
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Within government, different departments of power must be
perceived as being separated from one another. The
judiciary will always be the least dangerous to the political
rights of the constitution because it is in the least capacity to
annoy or injure them. The executive dispenses the honors,
and holds the sword of the community. The legislature
commands the purse, and prescribes the rules in which the
duties and rights of each citizen are to be regulated.
The judiciary has neither FORCE or WILL it simply has
judgment, and even with judgement it depends on the
aid of the executive arm to see if their judgement is
Important consequences
Proves that the judiciary is the weakness of the three
departments of power, it can never fully attack and be
successful without the support of the other two
The general liberty of the people can never be
endangered from that quarter so long as they remain
distinct from the other two
Proves that liberty has nothing to fear from the judiciary
alone, but has everything to fear ones in union with the
Independence of courts of justice
Essential in a limited constitution (one in which contains
specified exceptions to the legislative authority, ex: no
ex-post-facto laws)
Limitations such as those can be preserved within
practice no other way than through the courts of
justice whose job is to ensure that all are void
Courts were designed to be a middle ground for the people
and the legislature to keep the latter within the limits of their
For a constitution to exist, it must be agreed upon by all
judges to be a fundamental law
The constitution ought to be preferred to the stature as
it represents the intention of the people to the intention
of their agents
This means that the power of the people is superior to
judicial and legislative
Constitutions have established a sense of “good
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