Jefferson, Marshall and the Courts
After there defeat in the election of 1800, the Federalists tried to
keep control of the Federal Courts.
Judiciary Act of 1801 increased the number of judges and added
some judicial offices and quickly fill the positions with Federalist.
Adams quickly nominated and the Senate confirmed.
Adams signed some of the commissions on his final night as
They became known as the “midnight judges,” however, not all of
the commissions were delivered.
Jefferson was angered by the appointments and sent word to the
appointees to consider their appointments null.
The Republicans quickly repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801.
Jefferson replaced most of the judges, but he couldn’t change the
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Virginian John Marshall.
Marbury v Madison
Jefferson did not acknowledge Adams’ “midnight
One of the appointees, William Marbury,
applied to the Supreme Court for a writ
commanding Secretary of State James Madison
to deliver his commission.
This is the landmark case that created the
powers of the Supreme Court.
John Marshall was a Federalist.
If he ruled in favor of Marbury, he risked Jefferson ignoring the
decision and weakening the Court.
If he ruled in Jefferson’s favor he would be ruling against his
Instead he came up with a great idea, Marshall stated that Marbury
had the right to the commission, he declared a section of the
Judiciary Act of 1789 that gave the Supreme Court the right to
issue writs in cases like Marbury’s unconstitutional.
The founding fathers intended for the Supreme Court to have this
power, but the court had to claim it, the power of judicial review.
Jefferson’s attack on the Courts
Jefferson and the Republicans feared the
judges because they were appointed for
The only way to remove them was by
The Republicans started impeachment
proceedings against many judges, the first
was Samuel Chase
The Samuel Chase Case
Chase attacked the Republicans from the bench, calling the
revolutionaries and Jacobins.
Impeachment trials are held in the Senate, and the person who
presided over the Senate was the Vice-President, Aaron Burr (who
lost the election of 1800 to Jefferson).
Judges hold office during good behavior can only be impeached for
treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
Chase did none of these things and was acquitted.
Samuel Chase’s Day in Court
Despite Samuel Chase’s distinguished
background as a signer of the Declaration
of Independence, the Federalist judge
was disliked by Republicans.
He was bitterly anti-Republican, arrogant,
and often seemed to act unfairly in his
conduct of the Court.
Given these circumstances the Republican
majority in the House easily passed eight
articles of impeachment against Chase.
The major charge against Chase involved specific comments the
judge had made while addressing a grand jury in Baltimore. These
comments openly attacked the Republican party and warned
Americans against that party.
Other charges involved Chase’s conduct in two trials of Republicans
under the Alien and Sedition acts passed by the Federalists to
weaken Republican opposition.
The Alien Act gave the President the power to deport any alien
whom he felt was dangerous to national security; the vaguely
worded Sedition Act essentially made it legal to suppress any
criticism of the government.
Chase was sarcastic and arbitrary during these trials.
Finally, he was accused of blocking Republicans from sitting on the
jury in the case of James Callender, a Republican who was tried for
making treasonable comments.
In any impeachment of federal officials, the
House of Representatives conducts the
trial and the Senate acts as the judge.
Vice President Aaron Burr, himself under
indictment for murder for his fatal duel with
Alexander Hamilton, presided over the
Voting began on March 1. Each Senator
rose and voted guilty or not guilty on each
article of the impeachment.
A two-thirds vote of the thirty-four senators
present was needed for a conviction.
In the end, only nineteen senators voted in
favor of conviction.
Define- midnight judges, Judiciary Act of 1789, Judiciary Act of 1801, John Marshall, impeachment, judicial review
Summarize the events relating to John Adams’ appointment of “midnight judges”.
Refer to the section entitled “Marbury vs. Madison” to answer questions 2-5
Why did William Marbury apply for a writ from the Supreme Court?
What was Marshall’s original decision? What did he change it to and why did he do so?
What did the Federalist lose as a result?
What power was the Supreme Court guaranteed?
What advantage did the Federalist expect to obtain from the Judiciary Act of 1801?
How did the outcome of the impeachment cases allow political parties to freely voice their opinions about one
Article III, section I of the Constitution states ________.
Article II, section IV lists the 4 reasons a judge could be impeached. What are these reasons?
9. List 3 accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson’s first term as president.