Is Marbury v. Madison that big of a deal?

February 14th, 2012

Keith Whittington and Amanda Rinderle (who seems to have written this piece as her Princeton senior thesis way back in 2007) write that Marbury v. Madison may be making a mountain out of a molehill.

How important was Marbury v. Madison in American constitutional history? This article examines judicial, legislative and executive citations and legal commentary to show that Marbury did not enter the constitutional canon as the fountainhead of judicial review until the turn of the twentieth century. In doing so, it reveals the process by which historical memories are constructed and adds to our understanding about the diverse sources of judicial review in the early republic and the rhetoric of judicial authority.

And this sentence seems about right.

As the power of judicial review became more salient to the constitutional and political system and more contested, judges and commentators turned to the powerful rhetoric of John Marshall to help legitimate the institution to new generations.

Kinda like Magna Carta, or really any important legal text. When it happens, no one really cares. Years later, when it is expedient, courts can cite WAY BACK to something dead people wrote, and say, see, this doctrine has been around forever!