On this day in 1803, in the case Marbury v. Madison the
US Supreme Court established the principle of judicial review and gave
the Court the power to declare laws ‘unconstitutional’. The principle
was outlined in the majority opinion by Chief Justice John Marshall, the
words of which are inscribed on the wall of the Supreme Court building.
The case arose when Justice of the Peace for District of Columbia
William Marbury was not delivered his commission documents which
officially granted his title. The Court would not force the then
Secretary of State James Madison to deliver them, but held that the
provision of the 1789 Judiciary Act allowing Marbury to bring his claim
to the Court was itself unconstitutional as it extended the Court’s
constitutional jurisdiction. On February 24th, the Court ruled
unanimously to this effect. The decision gave the Supreme Court the
power to interpret the constitution and strike down laws as
‘unconstitutional’. Since then, the Court have made many high-profile
rulings branding things unconstitutional, including school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), school prayer in Engel v. Vitale (1962) and teaching creationism in science lessons in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).