The Supreme Court in American History
Article III of the Constitution vested the Supreme Court with the judicial power of the United States. However, it did not establish the form of the Court. Congress did that with the Judiciary Act of 1789. In addition, the Congress authorized the Court to determine the constitutionality of state legislation, filling in a gap in the Constitution. On the other hand, Congress was not about to give the Court the power to nullify its own legislation. This was appropriated by the Court itself in what should have been a case involving minor issues. Chief Justice John Marshall used the opportunity presented by the case to establish the Court's power to determine the constitutionality of Congressional acts. In Marbury v. Madison, Marshall held that Congress had acted unconstitutionally in giving the Court the power of mandamus in original jurisdiction. Marshall based his reasoning on Article III's grant of judicial power to the Court; Article VI's Supremacy Clause, placing the Constitution at the top of the legal hierarchy; and on English and American legal traditions giving courts the power to interpret the law and nullify legislative acts.
The Judiciary Act of 1789 also established the lower federal courts. Actually, this was the main impetus for this bill was the creation of a federal court system to solve a growing problem in the legal system. The earlier Articles of Confederation had created an anarchic situation in which the states had usurped virtually all political and judicial power. The Constitution had reserved certain powers to the federal government, but had not created a federal court system to impose order on those powers or protect the federal government's right to those powers.
One area in which the Court took an early interest was the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. This power was explicitly granted to Congress by Article II of the Constitutio...