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Morissette v. United States (Case Study Sample)


United States Supreme Court

1 Cranch (5 U.S.) 137 (1803)

Judicial History:  Under the authority of the Judiciary Act of 1789, Marbury filed suit directly with the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) to issue a writ of mandamus to force delivery of Marbury’s commission.    

Facts:  President Adams appointed Marbury as a D.C. Justice of the Peace during the last days of the Adams’ administration.  The approval process was completed and Marbury’s commission was signed, but had not been delivered before President Jefferson took office.  Jefferson’s Secretary of State, James Madison refused to deliver Marbury’s commission.


1. Does Marbury have a right to the commission?

2. Is there a remedy? 

3. If so, is that remedy a mandamus from the Supreme Court?



1.  Marbury’s appointment was legal.


2. Mandamus is proper to force issuance of the commission. 


3. The Judiciary Act is unconstitutional because original jurisdiction cannot be expanded, so SCOTUS cannot issue a writ of mandamus.


1. The Constitution grants the Executive branch to appoint executive officers.  The Constitution granted the Legislature the power to create and staff inferior federal courts.  Marbury was recommended by the President and approved by Congress.  The position that he received, was by law, a five-year non-revocable appointment.  Marbury’s commission was proper and Marbury has a right to receive his commission.

2.  Since Marbury has a legal right to the commission, denying the delivery of that appointment, is unlawful.  A writ of mandamus is proper to order delivery of the commission.  Detinue would be unsatisfactory as the commission is a position, not a thing, and the value thereof is indeterminable.  Marbury has a valid controversy that is redressable through a writ of mandamus.

3.  Although all branches of the federal government have the responsibility to comply with the Constitution, “(i)t is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”  Since the Constitution is the “supreme law of the land,” a “legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law,” and the judiciary will be the final arbiter of the constitutionality of laws.  The law upon which Marbury based his claim was the Judiciary Act of 1789 which expanded the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.  The Constitution, under Article III created two categories of jurisdiction for the Supreme Court: original and appellate.  The Constitution expressly stated which cases would be original and that in all others SCOTUS “shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.”  Consequently, the Judiciary Act of 1789, which added original jurisdiction to the Supreme Court, is unconstitutional - “a legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law.”  As such, SCOTUS has no jurisdiction in this case.


Case Brief
Morissette v. United States342 U.S. 246 (1952)
Judicial History:
During trial, the defendant, Morissette received conviction and indictment because there was abandoned government property particularly the casings that he converted to profit. The trial judge instructed the prosecution to prove adequately that the defendant intentionally took the property. The court of appeal later affirmed the conviction of Morissette.
The case Morissette vs United States involved the defendant who was dealing in junk. He had taken old bomb castings that had been abandoned nearby an air force activity bombing range and h sold them out for some profit. This followed the indictment and conviction of the defendant because of violation of statute that was viewed as a crime because of knowingly concerting a government's property though without intent.
This act was criminalized and he was accused of converting government property knowingly which were abandoned. There was no mention of the intent on whether the defendant intentional took the property or not. The conviction of the defendant received affirmation after appeal whereby the Unite...
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