As his term was expiring, Adams filled several vacancies in the federal courts with Federalist judges, who could be depended upon to protect Federalist legislation from the ascending Democratic-Republicans. This appointment of the so-called "midnight judges" to the Supreme Court angered Democratic-Republicans, and Jefferson refused to allow the midnight judges (including William Marbury) to take office . Marbury sued and demanded that the Supreme Court issue a writ of mandamus (a power given by the Judiciary Act of 1789) that would compel Jefferson to accept these appointments. Chief Justice Marshall ruled that the Constitution did not grant the Supreme Court power to issue such writs. Therefore, the 1789 Judiciary Act was unconstitutional and the Supreme Court could not compel the president to accept Marbury's appointment.
William Marbury (1762–1835) was one of the "midnight judges" appointed by United States President John Adams the day before he left office.
At first glance, this decision seems antithetical to Federalist interests. However, Marshall had established the foundational concept of judicial review—the power of the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of congressional legislation and presidential acts. According to the Constitution, there is one simple provision that "the judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court. " What this judicial power was or how the Court was to wield it is left remarkably blank in the rest of the document. In Marbury v. Madison, Justice Marshall defined the Court's judicial power as the authority to judge the actions of the other two federal branches of government—claiming that judicial review was a logical and implicit principle established in the Constitution. Essentially, the decision handed down by Marshall strengthened the power of the federal judiciary and permanently cemented its fundamental role in shaping both state and federal law—expanding the powers of the national government and ensuring a permanent Federalist legacy in the separation of federal powers. Therefore, although Federalist party quietly dissolved in the early nineteenth century, judicial review established an enduring legacy of the Federalist vision of government that continues to guide the federal system.