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The Supreme Court The Supreme Court - Image of hands holding a gavel.
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Bonus Interview Footage
Glossary

On John Marshall's contribution to the American law and politics

Transcript
John Marshall defined the role of the Supreme Court as the interpreter of the Constitution. His reasoning was very straightforward. It was emphatically, as he said in Marbury v. Madison, emphatically the province and duty of the courts to say what the law is. And the Constitution is law. And therefore it's the job of the courts to say what the Constitution means. It was that part about the Constitution being law that was in some sense revolutionary. The idea of a Constitution, unwritten or written, was really nothing new. But in most governments, if not all at that time, a Constitution was regarded as a political document for the establishing the political structure of government and for the political branches to work out its meaning. Marshall's real significant and unique contribution was to view the Constitution as law. And once you accept that, that the Constitution is law, it is a set of rules that govern how the government is going to be established and what the respective powers and responsibilities are then the courts have a significant role because courts tell you what the law means. And now under Marbury against Madison courts are telling you what the Constitution means. So Marshall, in that decision, established the role of the Supreme Court as interpreter of the Constitution.


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