U.S. Supreme Court
Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 1 Cranch 137 137 (1803)
Marbury v. Madison
5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137
The clerks of the Department of State of the United States may be called upon to give evidence of transactions in the Department which are not of a confidential character.
The Secretary of State cannot be called upon as a witness to state transactions of a confidentialnature which may have occurred in his Department. But he may be called upon to give testimony of circumstances which were not of that character.
Clerks in the Department of State were directed to be sworn, subject to objections to questions upon confidential matters.
Some point of time must be taken when the power of the Executive over an officer, not removable at his will, must cease. Thatpoint of time must be when the constitutional power of appointment has been exercised. And the power has been exercised when the last act required from the person possessing the power has been performed. This last act is the signature of the commission.
If the act of livery be necessary to give validity to the commission of an officer, it has been delivered when executed, and given to the Secretaryof State for the purpose of being sealed, recorded, and transmitted to the party.
In cases of commissions to public officers, the law orders the Secretary of State to record them. When, therefore, they are signed and sealed, the order for their being recorded is given, and, whether inserted inserted into the book or not, they are recorded.
When the heads of the departments of the Government arethe political or confidential officers of the Executive, merely to execute the will of the President, or rather to act in cases in which the Executive possesses a constitutional or legal discretion, nothing can be more perfectly clear than that their acts are only politically examinable. But where a specific duty is assigned by law, and individual rights depend upon the performance of that duty,it seems equally clear that the individual who considers himself injured has a right to resort to the laws of his country for a remedy.
The President of the United States, by signing the commission, appointed Mr. Marbury a justice of the peace for the County of Washington, in the District of Columbia, and the seal of the United States, affixed thereto by the Secretary of State, is conclusivetestimony of the verity of the signature, and of the completion of the appointment; and the appointment conferred on him a legal right to the office for the space of five years. Having this legal right to the office, he has a consequent right to the commission, a refusal to deliver which is a plain violation of that right for which the laws of the country afford him a remedy.
To render a mandamus aproper remedy, the officer to whom it is directed must be one to whom, on legal principles, such writ must be directed, and the person applying for it must be without any other specific remedy.
Where a commission to a public officer has been made out, signed, and sealed, and is withheld from the person entitled to it, an action of detinue for the commission against the Secretary of State whorefuses to deliver it is not the proper remedy, as the judgment in detinue is for the thing itself, or its value. The value of a public office, not to be sold, is incapable of being ascertained. It is a plain case for a mandamus, either to deliver the commission or a copy of it from the record.
To enable the Court to issue a mandamus to compel the delivery of the commission of a public office by theSecretary of State, it must be shown that it is an exercise of appellate jurisdiction, or that it be necessary to enable them to exercise appellate jurisdiction.
It is the essential criterion of appellate jurisdiction that it revises and corrects the proceedings in a cause already instituted, and does not create the cause.
The authority given to the Supreme Court by the act establishing the...
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