By Karen Holt, The Historic Examiner
On Monday, April 2, 2012, President Barak Obama spoke to the media regarding the situation of Obamacare and the Supreme Court by stating he is confident the Court will uphold the Healthcare law, because the mandate was in accordance with "uh....precedent out there" and because "it's Constitutional." He further stated, "That's just not my opinion, by the way, but that's based upon legal experts across the ideological spectrum...uh...including two very conservative appellate court justices, uh....that said this wasn't even a close case."
What Obama fails to take into consideration is the fact the Supreme Court’s responsibility is not to make laws – the Constitution gives that job to Congress. Instead, the Court’s responsibility is to ensure the laws passed by Congress and signed by the President are in line with the dictates of the Constitution of the United States. Together the three branches of government serve on an equal level with none of them exceeding the other in power or authority.
If the Supreme Court rules Obamacare to be unconstitutional, it will not be the first time in our country’s history this has happened. Just prior to the end of President John Adams’ term of office and the beginning of Thomas Jefferson’s, Adams appointed 42 ‘Midnight Judges’ and sixteen new circuit court judges – Federalist justices of the peace. He did so because he was aware the Federalist Party was losing control of the government to the Democratic-Republicans.
Though symbolically important, these Midnight Judges had little judicial power and served a term of five years. Under the Organic Act of 1801, their appointments were based on patronage (i.e. – a reward given to a person who had been a loyal political supporter) as opposed to the court-packing scheme concocted by the Judiciary Act of 1801. They were nominated by Adams on March 2nd and confirmed by the Senate on March 3rd. Secretary of State John Marshall burned the midnight oil on March 3rd recording and sealing the commissions; however, he ran out of time and was not able to get them delivered prior to Jefferson being sworn in on March 4th. Because Marshall did not meet the deadline required by law for delivering the commissions, President Jefferson refused to honor them.
William Marbury’s name was on one of those commissions to receive an appointment as justice of the peace. Madison refused to deliver Marbury's commission, per orders from President Jefferson. As a result, Marbury sued Madison, and the Supreme Court took the case. Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 granted the Supreme Court original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus “…to any courts appointed, or persons holding office, under the authority of the United States.”
John Marshall played a unique part in this process. At the time the commissions were written, he was the Secretary of State responsible for delivering the documents. After Adams left office, Marshall became Chief Justice of the United States. Though some believed Marshall to be another of Adams’ midnight judges, in reality Marshall had already been tapped to replace the ailing Oliver Ellsworth, who left the position on September 30, 1800. Marshall received the oath of office on January 31, 1801. He had agreed to finish out his duties as Secretary of State until Adams left office, then he would assume his responsibilities on the bench. As such, he would later write the opinion for Marbury vs. Madison.
In his writing, Chief Justice John Marshall stated the Judiciary Act of 1789, which spelled out the practice of delivering such commissions for judges and justices of the peace, was unconstitutional because it was an expansion which gave to the Supreme Court authority that was denied it by Article III of the Constitution.
In the end, Marbury vs Madison became the first case to be struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional and began the practice of ‘judicial review.’